Priority-1 was founded in 1987 with the goal of developing improved methods to enhance the effectiveness of Jewish education and to address the needs of students being left behind in the main-stream Yeshiva system. A new generation of students brought along a new set of challenges. The Yeshiva system works to deal with many of the issues that come up, but there are too many students that don’t have the inspiration and appreciation for the benefits and positive experiences of living a life of Torah and Yiddishkeit. Innovative and practical methods were developed by Rabbi Shaya Cohen, in his experience as an educator, first as the founding principal of educational institutions in the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles, California and then expanded upon as the founder of Priority-1. This experience was coupled with a deep rooted mission to serve the Jewish community, ingrained during Rabbi Cohen’s years of tutelage under Rav Henoch Leibowitz Zt”l, the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim.
In the first 18 years of Priorty-1’s existence, great strides were made and hundreds of students and educators benefitted. Priority-1 trained teachers were having an impact on schools around the nation and Rabbi Cohen was a sought after speaker around the country. However, the problems persisted and numerous students continued to abandon the available mainstream educational programs.
In 2006, Priority-1 launched the Community Training Initiative – created at the recommendation of the Posek Hador, Maran HaRav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv Zt”l – to streamline, enhance and expand the process of educating teachers, parents and students around the country and the world. Priority-1 has hosted extensive Seminars, Parent and Teacher Training programs and has an entire network of schools, inspiring students and training mechanchim to appreciate the truth of Torah and the benefits of a life committed to Yiddishkeit. This Initiative has two tracks:
- Priority Parenting Institute: Providing parents the skills to identify youth challenges that may lead to “at-risk” behavior and teaching proactive methods to prevent behaviors from spiraling out of control.
- Priority Teaching Institute: Training educators to detect, and effectively intervene when youth are faced with challenges that lead to alienation and estrangement from their heritage and community.
The key to these methods is the “prevention, early detection and intervention” model, where parents and educators are guided in the appropriate responses and practices at each juncture of the “at-risk” spectrum. The primary focus is on positive steps which can be taken, before any outward signs manifest, to prevent youth from becoming at-risk – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. The early detection and intervention of challenges in their early stages are essential in giving youth the best opportunity to overcome their issues before they weaken further. All children will benefit from the implementation of these methods. In its first two years alone, this initiative reached 10 communities, 565 Teachers from over 50 schools, and over 1000 Parents. (2007-2008)
The Priority-1 Consultation & Crisis Intervention Service provides family, educational and religious counseling services for parents, teachers and students. Thousands of individuals and families have been serviced through this program, over the past two decades.
The Priority-1 Resource Center is an exhaustive collection of print, audio, and video resources on positive parenting, educational methodology and techniques, child and adolescent psychology as well as Torah works. The Resource Center also publishes and disseminates its own series of resource works. These tools are available via mail, on-site and on the web.
For the past 25+ years, Priority-1 has seen growth and progress as our community has attempted to address the difficult issues that face the youth today. We have been there every step of the way and continue to advance innovative solutions to complex and challenging problems. From an alternative high school program in a few small rented rooms, we have grown to a multifaceted organization with programming around the globe.