How one Carlow student brought Pittsburgh’s Yeshiva Schools and the university together for training

“Our hope is that it has a de-stigmatizing effect [on mental health].”

Joe Roberts, chair of the Carlow counseling psychology doctoral program, leads a class of Yeshiva schools educators during a new partnership.

Joe Roberts, chair of the Carlow counseling psychology doctoral program, leads a class of Yeshiva schools educators during a new partnership.

Courtesy of Carlow University
MJ Slaby

Jonathan King already had some teaching experience when he started his graduate program at Carlow University. But it was a conversation with his rabbi that led him to bring together his faith and education through a new partnership between Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh and Carlow’s department of psychology and counseling.

King is hopeful it could become a model for universities to offer training to outlying communities, like conservative religious groups, new immigrants and rural towns.

The 12-week program at Carlow, which ended earlier this month, focused on learning styles and student behavior, but plans are already in the works for an expanded second round of training with more Yeshiva staff, organizers said.

The Yeshiva Schools are a group of four orthodox Jewish day schools in Squirrel Hill: an early learning center, elementary/middle school and separate high schools for boys and girls. Some teachers have master’s degrees, while others have no bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate, or no certificate at all and instead have divinity degrees, said King and Rabbi Yossi Rosenblum, Yeshiva director of education.

The partnership’s goal was to teach “helping skills” to Yeshiva’s faculty, Rosenblum said. If a child was struggling, the teacher or administrator would know how to respond and when to involve a mental health professional, though he said it’s not about teachers making a diagnosis but helping a student.

Staff at the Yeshiva schools face a lot of the same challenges as other teachers when it comes to student behavior, but they don’t have the same access to resources, King said. The stigma of mental health can be especially strong in “insular ethnic communities,” where there is a small group of people, and everyone knows everyone, said King, who was finishing his Carlow master’s degree in professional counseling during the partnership and will be a Carlow doctoral student this fall.

The Yeshiva-Carlow partnership could have a ripple effect for communities that might not usually interact with colleges — like new immigrants and other conservative religious groups — because the educators and religious leaders are community gatekeepers, King said.

“Our hope is that it has a de-stigmatizing effect [on mental health],” he said.

Training Yeshiva educators about student behavior and psychology was something Rosenblum had thought about for years after seeing a similar program in New York.

But when he talked with King and Rabbi Chonie Friedman, the trio realized it was something they could do with Carlow.

After their discussion, King pitched the idea to Joe Roberts, chair of Carlow’s Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program. From there, the Carlow team came up with a curriculum based on what people who work with children would want to know — human development, learning theory and so on, Roberts said.

Roberts and others from Carlow taught the two-hour sessions on Sunday evenings, which were offered at a “greatly reduced rate” to the Yeshiva staff, per the university. King served as a “cultural liaison” between Carlow’s staff and the 12 Yeshiva administrators, teachers and staffers who were interested in counseling.

Roberts said they were able to make connections between the latest psychology theories and Jewish teachings that go back thousands of years — though the process was much different than a typical Carlow class.

He said the Yeshiva faculty looks at education from a religious standpoint, where there are are a set of rules and everything is based on that. “They just develop a greater and greater understanding of it,” Roberts said.

But in psychology, opinions on best approaches can vary — something the Yeshiva staff found shocking.

Yeshiva teaches children how the bible expects them to behave, Rosenblum said, adding teachers need to understand where a child is coming from when they seem angry about their religion.

“It may be that they’re unhappy with something else and just acting out.”