Shefa School Chapter at Yeshiva University Takes a Unique Approach to Art Room
On Friday, November 17th, 2023 Eye to Eye staff members Amanda Feliciano and Alyssa Tundidor had the privilege of observing Eye to Eye’s Near-Peer Mentoring Program in action at the Yeshiva University (Beren School) | Shefa School Chapter in New York City. This is our first year of programming at the Yeshiva University (Beren School) | Shefa School Chapter and their Art Room is unique– instead of our typical after school model for programming, this neurodiverse community comes together early in the morning before school begins.
The project for the day–Eye to Eye’s “Through My Eyes Project”– centered on understanding and developing self-awareness through the creation of glasses that demonstrate self-awareness by inviting others to see different environments through their eyes. Glasses also featured built-in tools that would make the environment more accommodative for the individual. The development of self-awareness is a critical skill for neurodivergent youth and young adults as they begin to grow their abilities to self-advocate and self-regulate in different settings for success. In this project, Art Room discussion prompts center around self-awareness as a muscle we can exercise to recognize and begin to communicate changes to environments and settings to support our differences and learning needs. As a bonus, sharing self-awareness across different environments and needs in learning often contradicts the self-stigma often present for neurodivergent youth and young adults in classroom spaces.
Mentees and Mentors piled into the Art Room space on an early Friday morning excited and ready for the day’s icebreaker (Would you rather have fruit Punch or Lemonade?). The community then jumped into reviewing their Chapter’s Community Agreements (the Art Room norms and rules the community creates during the first Art Room of the year to create a safe and inclusive space for all participants). After a fun welcome, the group began to discuss what self-awareness is and think about the different environments they encounter and how those spaces affect how their brains think and work. Regina Mezistrano, a Chapter Leader at the Yeshiva University (Beren School) /Shefa School Chapter shared her experience in inclusive classroom spaces to center the lived experience of learning differently and demonstrate a personal experience in practicing self-awareness. After Regina shared the ways in which she demonstrates self-awareness in different settings, discussion started to flow between Mentees and Mentors. Participants then split into Mentor/Mentee clusters to create their self-awareness glasses– an artistic representation of their own reflections about how they move through the world.
Ruchama Benhamou, an Eye to Eye Mentor and Vice President of Eye to Eye at Yeshiva University, recently wrote an article about the Yeshiva University/ Shefa School Chapter published in the Yeshiva University Observer. The article highlights the power of neurodiversity and the importance of nurturing near-peer mentoring relationships for students who think and learn differently. Benhamou writes that “Our club is important because, through Eye to Eye, we spread awareness to combat anti-ableism, as well as advocate for the beauty in how different people learn in unique and amazing ways. To work together with such bright mentees who should not be defined by their disability is a true privilege. Intelligence is not binary, and it is not rigid or exact. There are multiple forms of intelligence that are so humbly expressed through how each mentee views and participates in the art room. Each has such a beautifully unique form of creative expression, and we must learn to celebrate those differences. One in five people have a learning difference. Difference is not subordinate. It is not lower or less than. It is distinctive and singularly special. It is time to uplift our communities and include all methods of learning, because true growth can only be achieved through acceptance and inclusion of differences.” We here at Eye to Eye are thrilled and encouraged to see that the movement that is advocacy for those of us who think and learn differently is still growing and surging forward.
Written by Alyssa Tundidor, Senior Coordinator, Near-Peer Mentoring Program at Eye to Eye