I have been very privileged to have been afforded a placement at the Givat Gonen Elementary School, in the Katamonim neighbourhood of Jerusalem through Skilled Volunteers for Israel. This is my second placement arranged by the organisation; in 2013 I spent almost 9 weeks volunteering at the Keren Kagan Mercaz Klass after school learning center serving many Ethiopian children from the area. On this trip, I wanted to build on my earlier experience in order to increase my knowledge of the education that the children receive in their regular schools.
As of this writing, I have completed only four sessions at the school and have been very impressed with the standard of care and education that the children are receiving. My first observation concerns the warmth of the staff towards both the children and towards each other. This is a school that clearly values teamwork and the contribution of all of the staff and visitors. The staff room doors remain open throughout the day and the children are able to approach the staff confident in the knowledge that their concerns will be heard and attended. The playing of a song that the children have composed heralds breaks in the school day and which they have agreed can be used in this manner. The welfare of the children is the first and foremost consideration from the beginning to the end of the day.
Many of the children come from disadvantaged families where resources are few and life for their parents is hard. The school provides facilities that complement the children’s formal education, for example, there is petting zoo which is staffed and where the children spend time with the animals, which helps them emotionally. The school is the first in the area to employ a time social worker engaging in a pilot project whose job it is to mentor individual children struggling for one reason or another. Staff at the school decide which children would benefit from breaks with the social worker during the day when they may paint, play games or talk about their feelings individually or in small groups. There is no judgement given to the difficulties that these children are experiencing, just sincere thought as to how best to help them. The breaks in the day are very helpful in that the children can then return to their classroom more able to concentrate and take advantage of their formal learning. There are sessions where the children are able to take part in Tai Chi, cookery, drawing and painting, drama and similar activities. The emphasis is clearly on developing the whole child and is apparent in their behaviour and enthusiasm.
I have spent most of my time in Kita Alef, the first grade with children age 6/7. They and their teacher have been so welcoming and far from me benefiting them with my skills, they are helping me with my Hebrew and teaching me words, accent as well as being patient with me when I struggle to explain myself. Last week for example I was asked to help a little boy of 5 years old with his number work. I was trying to assist him in learning the rule of the number 10. This was a great challenge for both of us not least because of my lack of Hebrew vocabulary. I was fortunate in that two of the teachers passing who assisted me. The child was so patient with me and I felt very humbled.
Whilst I am aware that there are many difficulties I have observed that the children at the school appear happy and relaxed. I cannot overestimate the warmth with which I have been received, from the guard at the school gate who lets me in with a laugh and a joke, to the care I have been shown by all of the staff especially Liora, who in addition to teaching coordinates volunteers at the school and takes time out of her very busy schedule to ask me how I am and arranges my day and text messages me in between to enquire about my welfare.
Everything’s Possible – HaKol Efshari
In my view, this is a school whose ethos should be applauded and studied by other educational institutions across the globe who could learn much from the respect with which the children and staff are treated. An education such as this could lead to great improvements in children’s ability to learn and enjoy their education which is what in my view goes a long way toward contributing to a good childhood and a feeling that there are teachers out there who truly care. I am just very grateful to the staff of Skilled Volunteers for Israel for giving me this wonderful opportunity.