Teaching Literacy: One Ethiopian-Israeli Girl’s Metamorphosis

September 7, 2010


Avia, an Ethiopian-Israeli from Beit Shemesh, is a JDC success story: with the help of PACT, she will enter first grade on par with her veteran-Israeli peers.

When she entered kindergarten last fall, Avia was shy and withdrawn, hesitant to make eye contact with her classmates or teachers. She was hampered and embarrassed by her limited Hebrew vocabulary. The school’s PACT literacy specialist had seen behavior like Avia’s before and knew the little girl would need special encouragement and reinforcement both at home and in school if she was to flourish.

The specialist invited Avia’s mother to meet with her at the kindergarten, and showed her how to use a variety of language enrichment tools and games that were designed to help children like Avia. Over the next several months, Avia’s mother took home new educational games each week to play with her daughter; this helped enrich Avia’s language skills and enhanced her self-esteem. Their mother-daughter playtime together had the added benefit of strengthening their relationship.

Avia soon began to blossom, becoming eager to learn and to interact with others. She now enjoyed listening to stories, and became a lively and cooperative participant in all of the usual kindergarten activities. Thanks to the PACT literacy specialist’s perceptive intervention, Avia ended up achieving a great deal over the course of the school year.

Toward the close of the term, Avia surprised her teachers and friends by drawing a breathtaking picture depicting the lifecycle of a butterfly. When asked how she knew how a caterpillar became a butterfly, Avia responded: “The teacher read us the book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (by Eric Carle), this year. I loved the story and remembered it, so I was able to draw the picture for my friends!”

As they looked at the beautiful sketch on display in a prominent place in the kindergarten, it was hard to tell who was prouder: once-shy little Avia, her mother, or her PACT mentor and guide.

Today, JDC’s PACT programs are helping Ethiopian-Israeli schoolchildren like Avia gain the education and culturally sensitive support they need for a bright and successful future.

* JDC’s Parents and Children Together (PACT) program for Ethiopian-Israeli children works to enhance their literacy skills and educational performance to improve their academic success by addressing the unique cultural and language barriers they face. Today, thousands of children and their families benefit from PACT thanks to partnerships with the Jewish Federations of North American and JFNA’s Network of Independent Communities.

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