A message from the Director General as ORT schools open their doors for the new academic year:
As students, as parents – and as Jews – we often tend to think of new annual cycles as beginning in September, rather than from January, whether because of Rosh Hashana or the start of a new academic year. This September, as we all take tentative steps out of lockdown and back to a semblance of normality, this month and the beginning of this new school year feels an even more momentous event than usual.
The disruption of the past six months has often affected our youngsters more than most, as some contend with the disappointment of having their examination preparations count for little, while others have struggled with the feelings of isolation that come from being separated from their classmates.
I am so proud of the way that all members of the ORT family – professionals, lay leaders, teaching staff and supporters – have come together to ensure that our students have continued to receive a seamless, if alternative, education during this period. And I am delighted that we are now able to re-open schools, albeit with various restrictions and conditions, around the world.
The majority of our schools have opened their doors to students this week, our staff having planned over the summer for how best to serve their students in every scenario. Most schools have shown great resource in order to plan and implement hybrid systems, formed of some students attending school, some continuing to work from home and some juggling between the two.
Extra regulations have been put in place which may disrupt the natural order of the school day and year, from staggered start times to students and staff having their temperature taken daily, and from the obligation to wear masks to the cancellation of all outdoor activities and excursions.
Our schools in France, Italy and our affiliated school in Hungary have all re-opened subject to these limitations. Bulgaria is scheduled to recommence on 15 September, with the additional good news that on 30 September the Israeli ambassador will visit, to commemorate 30 years of diplomatic connections between Bulgaria and Israel.
I am delighted to say that we received a VIP visit in Israel too, the Education Minister Yoav Galant recognizing the excellent work of Kfar Silver Youth Village by touring the high school on the day of its opening this week.
Our schools in Russia opened this week, although the traditional ceremony to mark the first day of the school year was cancelled in Moscow, while in our other schools it was restricted only to the first and last year groups.
Ukraine’s Health Ministry has set up a form of traffic-light system, dictating various levels of safety, based on the spread of the virus. While most of our Ukrainian schools were able to open, the ORT school in Chernivtsi falls within an orange/yellow zone and so its re-opening has been postponed. Likewise, Pri Etz Chaim School in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has had to delay the return of its students.
Similarly, in Argentina, Brazil and Panama, the status of the virus is such that our schools will remain closed for now, with online learning continuing in the meantime. CIM-ORT in Mexico remains focused on distance learning, with teachers and coordinators receiving training on how to implement this through the use of new online platforms. Around 600 people attended an online ceremony to mark the new school year. Our affiliated school in Colombia, meanwhile, has been given the go-ahead to re-open on a gradual basis.
The ORT-affiliated school in Singapore has also re-opened subject to restrictions. In South Africa the re-opening of the King David schools has been postponed, while the national Department of Education works to broadcast educational content over television and radio so that those students without home IT resources do not miss out.
We will continue to monitor the ever-changing situation around the globe and to provide all the support needed to ensure that our students and teachers are able to work and learn in the best possible conditions.
In the meantime, I wish all our students and educators B’hatzlacha for the coming year. I have every confidence that, despite the extra challenges that they may face, they will continue to achieve great things together.
World ORT Director General and CEO