Betsy Gidwitx Reports

72. The Perlina School is an independent, private Jewish day school currently operating at capacity with 124 youngsters in preschool and grades one through seven. Perlina receives no government aid, but charges $600 monthly per pupil, said Rabbi Yonatan and Mrs. Ina Markovich, the Israeli couple who founded and direct the school. The tuition fee is typical for good private schools in Kyiv, the Markoviches said, but only about one-third of pupils come from families who pay the full fee. Scholarships for the others are provided through fundraising.


The major appeal of the school to parents, stated the Markoviches, is small classes (no more than 15 pupils in a class) and a strong emphasis on acquisition of English-language skills, as well as a rigorous overall general studies curriculum. Youngsters are scheduled for 10 classes of English weekly, all taught by native English speakers. Additionally, they have five weekly classes in Hebrew and three in Jewish tradition. For those families who want a stronger Jewish tradition program, additional classes in religious subjects are available after school; about 15 youngsters are enrolled in these extra classes, the Markoviches said.


Perlina has undergone significant renovations during the past year, the Markoviches stated. New insulation and new electronic smart boards were installed in all classrooms; they are in the process of purchasing programs for the smart boards and, additionally, are developing custom programs themselves.[119] One of the school's outdoor fields was marked for football (soccer), a companion sports area to a well-developed playground for younger children.


Graduates of Perlina continue their education in other English-speaking elite private schools in the city, including the American/International school and the British school. However, the Markoviches are looking for a second building so that they can extend Perlina into a full 11- grade school.[120] Aware that general studies curricula in most Jewish day schools in Ukraine are considered inferior, they are eager to prove that a Jewish day school can provide programs of high quality in both secular and religious studies.


73 For the second consecutive year, the writer was denied access to the ORT school, a lyceum that enrolls several hundred youngsters in grades five through11. Scheduling problems were cited on each occasion.




74. The writer was unable to visit the Mitzvah school, a small school that probably enrolls fewer than 100 children in preschool and elementary grades. Mitzvah operates under the auspices of Chabad Rabbi Moshe Reuven Asman.




75. Rabbi Yonatan and Mrs. Ina Markovich, who operate the Perlina school, opened a school for autistic children in Kyiv in 2010. Known as Дитина з майбутнім (Ukr.; Children with a Future), the school is housed in a renovated two-story building previously used as a preschool. Enrollment at the school now stands at 32 youngsters between the ages of two and seven, which is full capacity for the current building. Tuition is very costly; all families pay something, but only a few pay the full fee. The majority are supported by a scholarship fund.


A detailed assessment of each child's functional capacity is made at the time of application to the program and is repeated every three weeks. For some children, the goal is mastery of basic life skills, such as following directions, eating independently, dressing, etc. Others are ready to engage in a basic academic program. Although some progress has been made in developing societal awareness of autism, Ukraine remains steeped in the Soviet mentality of fearing differences and avoiding responsibility for those who need assistance, said Mrs. Markovich. This fear of those who are different extends to pedagogical institutes, which are reluctant to invest in programs that train special education teachers. Further, she continued, pedagogical institutes generally do not attract the highest-caliber students, so it may be difficult to find candidates capable of absorbing information and implementing it in actual programs.


Each child receives highly person-alized attention at the Markovich school. It is difficult to find qual-ified special education teachers in Kyiv, said Mrs. Markovich, but all at their school have had some training. They feel fortunate to have at least one male instructor (assisting child on slide at far right) in a heavily feminized field. Child-ren need a male presence at school, especially since so many come from single-parent (mother-only) homes.

Photo: the writer.


The school operates on a 1:1 teacher:pupil ratio and also employs speech and art therapists. All of the teachers have some educational background in special education and/or child development, said Mrs. Markovich, but they remain dependent upon an American specialist for advanced training. Dr. Virginia Bossi of San Francisco, a non-Jewish woman, visits the school several times a year to evaluate staff and programs, train staff, and also work with parents. Additionally, Dr. Bossi monitors classes electronically prior to her arrival and leads seminars through distance learning technology. When in Kyiv, Dr. Bossi also meets with government officials to lobby for greater state commitment to special education and for a change in relevant state laws.[121] The Markoviches pay for Dr. Bossi's transportation between San Francisco and Kyiv and for an apartment for her during her Kyiv stays, but her actual work is provided free of charge.


The Markoviches currently are searching for a suitable second building so that their program can be extended for older age groups. To date, Mrs. Markovich said, five youngsters have "aged out" of the existing program and have attempted to enter regular state schools. However, not all state schools - even those with special education programs - will accept such children. Three youngsters have done reasonably well in regular schools, Mrs. Markovich stated, but each is accompanied by an aide, whose salary is paid by parents. The two other children who have aged out of the Markovich school have serious problems, she said. Nonetheless, several children who attended the Markovich school as preschoolers are doing well in regular kindergarten, including the kindergarten at the Perlina school.



A classroom door at the Markovich school sounds out the Russian word for "tree" and also imparts a basic arithmetic lesson.



Photo: the writer.



Mrs. Markovich is aware of other reasonably good programs for autistic children that operate in Kharkiv, Odesa, and Berdyansk (a city of about 115,000 on the Sea of Azov). She is well-informed about special education efforts throughout Ukraine because she and/or her staff participate in various Ukrainian special education conferences. Mrs. Markovich noted that her own school and the one in Berdyansk are the only ones that operate summer day camps; two-month breaks from educational programs may eradicate much of the progress that autistic children make during the regular school year, Mrs. Markovich observed.


In addition to working with local families, the school also works with out-of-town families who bring their children to the school for assessment and suggestions for parenting techniques. Additionally, the sophisticated teleconferencing system in the school permits Kyiv staff to observe such children in their own homes. One out-of-town family is that of a prominent Christian clergyman in the country.


Almost all current local children at the school have some Jewish heritage, stated Mrs. Markovich. Although the kitchen is kosher, other Jewish content at the school is minimal. However, families are invited to bring their children to community holiday events at Rabbi Markovich's synagogue.


Mrs. Markovich lamented that most youngsters in the school are from single-parent homes. Often, she continued, fathers of special-needs children abandon their families. Some mothers of autistic children, said Mrs. Markovich are so frustrated by their circumstances that they become aggressive and act out. The school does not provide transportation services, Mrs. Markovich responded to a question. They prefer that parents bring children and pick them up later at the end of the day because the appearance of the parents at the school provides opportunities for communication. For example, when a child masters a skill (such as tying his or her own shoes) at school, the parents must be informed so that the youngster is expected to perform this task at home and not regress into continuing dependency.[122]


[119] Rabbi Markovich has a background in computer science. He is a graduate of the Technion in Israel and a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces.

[120] See pages 109-111 for information about a school for autistic children sponsored by the Markoviches and page 126 about Rabbi Markovich's rabbinate in Kyiv.

[121] Current Ukrainian law defines autism as a type of schizophrenia. Adults with a diagnosis of schizophrenia are not permitted to work, that is, they are forced into lifelong dependency. Obviously, those concerned about adults living with autism would like to see changes in this government policy.

[122] The school is well-served by municipal bus lines. Additionally, some parents have access to cars - their own vehicles or perhaps a car of a grandparent or other relative.


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