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Gray Academy’s New SERF Role Provides Opportunities for All Students

Ashley Morgan

Gray Academy prides itself on its unique educational offering in Winnipeg. And with the one-of-a-kind Special Education Resource Program it has in place for its 18 government-funded, levels 2 and 3 special needs students, this school is continuing to create the mould for Jewish education in Winnipeg and in Canada.
“We open our school to all children who we feel can be successful in our program, and we are pleased to be one of very few Canadian Jewish day schools who include these students,” says Rory Paul, head of school and CEO for Gray Academy. “In our minds, students needing educational aids, supports and assistants, are entitled to educational programming that is as similar to other students as possible.
There was a time, however, when students with autism and other special needs weren’t able to receive a Jewish education. As the demand increased, so did the resources needed, and in 2003-2004 Debra Nachtigall, a learning needs specialist, came on board as the sole Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) at Gray Academy.
“When I came to Gray Academy, the goal was inclusion,” says Ms Nachtigall. “My job was to assist teachers with modifying and adapting programs and identifying outcomes for our special needs students.”
In the past few years Gray Academy’s staff has learned many specialized teaching strategies; including Applied Behaviour Analysis. Thanks to the skills they gained from using the teaching strategies, they have become experts in teaching and including students within their classes. 
In order to learn more about specific special needs, Nachtigall worked with the St. Amant Centre’s Applied Behavioural Analysis program. This allowed her to hone her skills and better teach and assist others about the special needs students at Gray Academy.
Ms Nachtigall’s job has grown and her responsibilities have become greater. In an effort to continue to achieve a high level of social, emotional, spiritual, and academic success for its special
needs students, Gray Academy hired an additional half-time SERT in 2011-2012 and many skilled educational assistants (EAs). “We now have 1.5 SERTs and 18 full-time equivalent EAs. It’s very satisfying,” Ms Nachtigall adds. “I feel the students have thrived with the additional resource staff. With more of us knowing the students and working side-by-side with the teachers, the students are better able to grow to their full potential.”
But as professional resources grow, so does the demand for them. So, Gray Academy again expanded its program when it recently created a Special Education Resource Facilitator (SERF) position, and hired Alissa Loader to take on its responsibilities.
“My job,” says Loader, “is to promote student success. Because I devote my time to developing the visual and graphic organizers used in the classrooms, the teachers and SERTs can devote more of their time to interacting with the students.”
So, the SERF position, an important one, allows SERTs to spend less time creating appropriate material and more time taking action with the teachers and discovering which alternative tools developed by the SERF, work best for each student. Though the SERF’s responsibilities are new to this year, the school has big goals and aspirations for what it will accomplish.
“Our SERF is creating tools and electronic aids for learning,” says Mr. Paul. “These tools will eventually form a database or ‘library’ of resources that will span a variety of needs in each subject and unit of study.”
Though this may seem like an overwhelming task, Gray Academy is realistic about the time it will take and is maintaining focus on the importance of its outcome.
“Through the SERF’s work, we want to help educate a broader range of students and not just those with funding,” says Mr. Paul. “We know our team’s findings will be able to be used for many different students, with many different learning needs.”
Ashley Morgan
Coordinator of Marketing & Communications
Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education)
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