Giving Israeli Students an Extra Push This Fall

September 23, 2015


How do you change the story for a pre-teen struggling to achieve in school?

In Israel, the answer’s simple: You approach the task with heart.

Tom, a 7th grader from the Haifa area, was struggling socially and academically when the “School with a Heart — Yuval” program for underachieving students began working in his public school last year.

This new pilot program, introduced by JDC together with Israel’s Ministry of Education and the Yuvalim organization, takes a comprehensive approach to helping students falling through the cracks by offering remedial classes, enrichment, therapeutic support, and teacher training.

When Tom first met with the school coordinator as a potential candidate for “School with a Heart — Yuval,” he was downcast and dispirited. Throughout the whole meeting, he hid his face.

He spoke quietly. It was clear he’d rather have been anywhere else.

The coordinator perceived that Tom was a sweet boy, small for his age and seemingly trying to protect himself by reducing his presence and “disappearing.” To her, it seemed that Tom was carrying heavy emotional baggage impacting his behavior and social relationships — conclusions affirmed by Tom’s teachers and grade adviser.

The school coordinator decided that Tom was the perfect candidate for the safe, relaxed atmosphere, extra enrichment, and therapeutic activities fostered by “School with a Heart — Yuval”

Through her conversations with Tom, she built a relationship with him and determined he lived in a complex and difficult home that not only prevented him from studying but also required him to serve as a parental figure to younger siblings.

“Tom’s personal journey over the course of last year was not easy,” the school coordinator said. “There were times that he tested the limits of the entire staff. But looking back, I can see how much Tom has grown over the course of the year, both personally and academically. He speaks with more confidence and he has built meaningful friendships.”

The highlight of the year was when Tom was chosen to play a main role in the end-of-year ceremony for the “School with a Heart — Yuval” program, standing on stage in front of the mayor, dignitaries, and school staff.

Now, the sky’s the limit for Tom as he begins eighth grade.

“Tom is one of many students in this pilot program who are starting the school year now in a stronger place than last September,” said Michal Ettinger, JDC’s Head of Children’s Programs. “Our goal is to ensure that the students who need emotional and learning assistance receive in-school support and that their parents are brought into the process as well.”

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