Feature Stories

One School’s Journey

When JDC began working with the high school in Beit Jann — a poor and predominantly Druze community in northern Israel about 40 minutes east of Nahariya — less than half of its students graduated with Te’udat Bagrut, the official Israeli matriculation certificate that’s a prerequisite for higher education in the country.

Enter JDC.

Now, three years after the organization completed its comprehensive training regimen for Beit Jann’s faculty and staff, the school recently topped the rankings as the best high school in Israel — with 100 percent of students attaining Bagrut.

“The Joint had a significant part in the success of our school and it did much throughout the Druze sector,” said Ali Salalha, the school’s principal. “We had a Joint-funded program for the Druze sector that lasted five years and added a lot of extra learning hours and training programs for teachers. It helped us move forward.”

Beit Jann was one of 12 Druze high schools targeted under “Educating for the Future,” a JDC project jointly operated with Israel’s Ministry of Education. The initiative was a response to studies that showed Druze students with much lower Bagrut scores than other Israelis, which the data indicated would lead to less likelihood of attending university or securing gainful employment.

The project focused on improving Bagrut scores of average achievers from the Druze population, specifically in mathematics, English, and Arabic. Students worked in small groups of seven, in which they received instruction on how to use important technology and were taught study strategies to help them prepare for the Bagrut exam.

In addition to focusing on students and their academics, the program was instrumental in fostering connections between Druze educators.

“As one of the program components, we set up a principals’ forum that met regularly every month for several years and was one of the main fields of influence on the future professional work of the principals,” said Ita Shachar, the deputy director of Ashalim, JDC’s initiative for Israeli children and youth at-risk.

JDC concluded its involvement with the Druze program in 2009, by which point Bagrut rates in Beit Jann had soared to 83.7 percent. But the ripple effects of JDC’s research and development expertise are still being felt — something that is a hallmark of JDC’s sustainable operating model in Israel.

JDC has phased out of the program, like we always do, but the Ministry of Education continued to fund quite a few elements of it, and the knowledge and skills the principals have absorbed has continued to influence their work since,” Shachar said.

Salalha, the Beit Jann principal, said he couldn’t imagine his high school topping the Israeli rankings without the training he received through JDC.

“Personally I learned a lot from the programs, like how to be more effective as a manager and be more transparent,” he said. “That’s what the Joint did.”

JDC's initiative for Druze education, youth at risk, municipal leadership, and volunteerism was generously supported by the Everett Foundation.

Ashalim — the Association for Planning & Development of Services for Children and Youth At Risk & Their Families — is a partnership among JDC, the Government of Israel, and UJA-Federation of New York. Ashalim works to support and protect at-risk youth through formal education initiatives, youth entrepreneurship and employment programming, alternative learning spaces, community-building models, and programs that help engender safe home environments and healthy relationships between parents and children.

Tags for this story: Education, Children

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