ARTICLERetired Educators and Aleph Bet Champs: A Shidduch in Deerfield Beach

While some retirees move to Florida and look forward to relaxing after a long, productive professional career, others find new and innovative ways to apply decades of professional experience in a new setting, like Rabbi Dr. Marty Schloss.

“I came here and found [school] principals galore, psychologists, reading specialists,” he said recently. “I started talking to them and realized there is a treasure trove of people in our retirement village who could be making a difference!”

A 1995 Covenant Award recipient and a pioneer in the field of Jewish special education, Schloss started to look around at some of the members of the Young Israel of Deerfield Beach, where he serves as president, and shared his ideas with friends.

Schloss’s brainstorm eventually became The Intergenerational Enrichment Center. In 2019, he received a Covenant Foundation Ignition Grant to “create meaningful intergenerational relationships and enhance the Hebrew reading skills of Boca Raton Jewish day school students in Grades K-2 by pairing them with retired educators for tutoring.”

The initial plan was for 20 senior citizens—referred to as “coaches”—to meet with 20 students in their schools. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “We saw that everyone was using distance learning and thought, ‘Why not us?’” asks Schloss. So the program transitioned to iPads and Zoom, where an initial cohort of 10 participants and coaches meet for two half-hour sessions each week. Students work to earn medallions by completing each book in the color-coded “Alef Champ” reading program.

Marla Turk, who has been instrumental in helping Schloss set up the program and recruit tutors and who is a tutor herself, shares Schloss’s observation about the skills of many fellow retired Jewish educators in South Florida.

“We have so much talent here,” she said. “Teachers who combined have hundreds of years of experience.”

Turk, a former New York City Board of Education principal in Canarsie, (Brooklyn) New York, continued her career as headmaster of The Brandeis School in Lawrence, which is in New York.

“We put ads in the local shul bulletins and at first got no response,” she said. “But when I personally approached retired teachers, we got one person, and she told a friend and so on, until we had 10 coaches.”

Turk enjoys her Monday meetings with her first grade tutee, Tehila. Turk explained that they use both a textbook and flash cards to learn letters, vowels, and blends. “You become an Alef Bet champ and receive a medallion at the end of each book,” she said. And perhaps most importantly, “The smile on Tehila’s face is ear to ear!”

What’s more, the two are forming a special bond. In addition to learning Hebrew, “We talk a little bit, and we are forming a relationship.” Turk said, “I love seeing how happy she is. I sense that she is a little more confident.”

Turk started coaching over Zoom from her summer home in New York, and just recently got to meet Tehila in person. She’s having such a good time tutoring that she is already looking ahead to tutoring another student once Tehila completes the program.

Sora Shain, who works with Schloss at their synagogue, jumped at the chance to have her daughter Leora, who is six and a half, participate in the program.

“When I heard what Marty was doing, I immediately wanted our daughters to be a part of it,” she said. Leora, who attends both a local charter school and Hebrew school, “is reading Hebrew more confidently with each class,” Shain added. Plus, having a coach provides additional benefits to Shain and her husband.

“My husband and I are so busy and have no time to review with Leora. But with Turk’s help, Leora has passed two levels so far and has received both white and red medallions,” she said.

Schloss’s program has been so successful that there is interest from residents at the nearby Century Village as well as other area retirement communities. Turk is confident that she will again work her magic and manage to recruit more tutors for the program, and Schloss agrees.

“I know how much all of these people accomplished during their careers,” Schloss said. “Why not do it all again?”

By Howard Blas, for The Covenant Foundation

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