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IVDU school wins in category in mainstream STEAM competition

Students win first place in “Engineer for School” category at Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education’s Innovation Day. IVDU was the first special-education school to compete.

Students from the IVDU school, the first special education school to participate in the program, earned first place in a category of the STEAM contest from the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education. Credit: Courtesy of YACHAD/IVDU.
Students from the IVDU school, the first special education school to participate in the program, earned first place in a category of the STEAM contest from the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education. Credit: Courtesy of YACHAD/IVDU.

In an unprecedented win for special education and inclusion, a team of five 10th-graders from the Marilyn and Sheldon David IVDU Boys Upper School in Brooklyn, N.Y., won first place at the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education’s (CIJE) Innovation Day 2024. The honor came in the “Engineering for School” category for the invention of a device that facilitates discrete communication between students and staff.

IVDU is an Orthodox network of schools in New York for boys and girls from kindergarten to age 21 with mild-to moderate learning, social and developmental delays. It operates under the aegis of Yachad, an international organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families.

Launched in 2001, CIJE is a nonprofit dedicated to enriching Jewish education at more than 200 Jewish day schools and yeshivahs across 18 states, via hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) learning.

Following a year of coursework as part of CIJE’s two-year scientific and biomedical engineering high school curriculum, students are invited to participate in Innovation Day. The competition encourages them to identify a daily object or process that could benefit from refinement. Working in teams, students are tasked with conceiving and designing a functional model to solve their identified challenge using engineering principles and coding.

Innovation Day 2024 drew more than1,400 students from 43 schools across the United States. The event was held in three separate locations, including the American Dream Meadowlands complex in Rutherford, N.J., where the IVDU students presented their inventions to a group of judges and guests.

This was IVDU’s first time entering the competition and the first time a special-education school competed in Innovation Day.

“We don’t view IVDU as a special-ed school,” said CIJE’s vice president of development Philip Brazil. “To us, it’s just one of our schools. Knowing IVDU, the accomplishment is even greater.”

The project solves a common challenge encountered in most schools, where students and staff are frequently disrupted by intercom announcements. The IVDU boys’ device facilitates quiet, direct communication between staff and individual students, via pre-programmed messages that are frequently exchanged in school settings. Resembling a pager and built into students’ desks, the equipment operates independently of wifi—protecting it from being hacked, and freeing schools from having to grant students internet access.

The IVDU boys’ creation was one of 500-plus prototypes presented at Innovation Day. They passed two rounds of judging to win first place in “Engineering for School,” one of 14 award categories.

Along with a second IVDU team that entered the competition with a different invention, the boys began working on their prototype around Sukkot time. They had the help of STEAM director and teacher Dovid
Teitelbaum, who initiated IVDU’s participation in the competition, and the support of science teacher David Ackerman, who assisted with visual presentations. Additionally, history and public speaking teacher Sarah Greenberg coached them on their oral presentations.

“I am so proud of all of them,” said Greenberg. “Most stayed after school and worked on their inventions during their free time. Their win was just icing on the cake.”

Greenberg said that the boys got to experience success and are using it to springboard forward. “After they won, the boys began discussing potential inventions for next year. CIJE Innovation Day gets IVDU students excited about learning.”

Head of IVDU schools Rabbi Michoel Druin said, “At IVDU schools, we work hard to provide our students with suitable opportunities to enter and compete in the mainstream world. To our delight, their hard work and the dedication of our staff led our team to win first place. Like it says in Masechet Megillah, “Yagati u’matzati, taamin: ‘If you put in effort, you will find success.’ ”

IVDU is a division of the Orthodox Union and run with Torah values. It is endorsed by educators and supported by an experienced clinical team focused on outcomes grounded in best practices and evidence-based research. For more information, contact Rabbi Michoel Druin, IVDU head of School, at 718-758-2999 or email: druino@ou.org.

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
Yachad is an international organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Jewish individuals with disabilities and their families, by enhancing their communal participation and their connection to Judaism through social and educational programs and support services. https://www.yachad.org/
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