Spelling success ... (from left) school principal Ran Shem Tov, teacher Malka Ela Gabriel, Peta Singer and Sima Lewis
Photos: Harvey Lewis
“Hello”. Welcome”. “We are pleased to see you”. A group of teenage boys waved to us excitedly. They had been waiting to greet us and show us round their school. They were also keen to practice speaking in English.
Harvey and Sima Lewis and I had driven up the Golan to present the school with a gift from the Tiberias/Jordan Valley branch of ESRA. The school, Yeshivat Alonie Habashan, is a religious boarding school for students with learning or behavioral difficulties. Students come from all parts of the country.
Harvey and Sima’s daughter Malka is a teacher there and through her we learned of an opportunity for our ESRA branch to make a positive difference to the students.
Above and Below: Taking pride in their school through art, music and gardening
Many of the students have dyslexia which makes studying difficult, and especially learning English. One of the problems dyslexics face is using a dictionary. Finding a word in a printed dictionary is a huge task for some of the students and impossible for others. Modern technology has helped these students as Google Translate is much easier for them to manage than a printed dictionary. Students can quickly understand an English word or translate from Hebrew with the dictionary, which is accessible on mobile phones or computers. While this is useful for class work or homework, the students face a problem when it comes to exams as they are not allowed to use mobile phones or computers. All students are allowed to use dictionaries, but it takes these students such a long time to plough through a printed dictionary that they can’t complete the exam.
This is where our ESRA branch came to the rescue. Electronic dictionaries are permitted in exams but they are expensive. Most of the students are from families with modest incomes and the school itself, although now government funded, was established by donations. With each dictionary costing more than 400 shekels neither the school nor the parents could afford to buy them. The ESRA Tiberias/Jordan Valley branch members have provided six electronic dictionaries to the school.
The outcome has been tremendous. Students are passing bagrut exams and going on to further education. Many of the students were keen to tell us how the dictionaries have changed their lives. From having low expectations, they now feel confident that they can pass the bagrut exams and succeed in the future.
On our tour of the school the boys were happily speaking English and I was impressed by their pride in the school. They showed us classrooms, the synagogue, the common areas, and we were particularly impressed with the music room, art room and a well-equipped gym.
While we were there many boys were taking part in a gardening competition. Teams of boys were creating small gardens near the living quarters. There were very creative and physically demanding designs which will add to the ambiance of the site. The ethos of team work and pride in the school was very clear to us.
Malka explained that many boys need an outlet for their frustrations. Music is for many extremely enjoyable and therapeutic. We could see for ourselves the pleasure the boys experienced when playing various instruments.
In the art studio we saw boys creating art in different mediums and eager to show us their work.
I asked how they managed to buy such good equipment for the gym and Malka explained that the Ministry of Education was so pleased with the success of the school that they provided the equipment.
As we were touring the school, one student called in to see us so he could thank us personally. I asked him why an electronic dictionary was so important. He told me that he is unable to use a printed dictionary. He explained, a little embarrassed, that in addition to dyslexia he is very clumsy and doesn’t have the dexterity to use a standard dictionary. He found it so frustrating to try turning the pages and looking through the confusing printed text that he was too overwhelmed to continue. The electronic dictionary we had provided helped in his course work and in his exams. He told me that he had recently passed his exams and was going on to higher education and was absolutely sure that the electronic dictionary made it possible.
Malka said that she could see that the dictionaries are making a huge difference, but sadly students are not allowed to share dictionaries in exams so she is faced with the very difficult decision of which students can use them.
Our visit was very enjoyable and we came away with a feeling that our ESRA branch is helping to make a positive difference to some young people. And I left in awe of students with learning difficulties eager to learn English when I am still struggling to learn Ivrit.