Israeli youth village puts struggling students on the path to success

Students at World ORT’s Kfar Silver Youth Village have taken their first steps on an educational “journey of a thousand miles” by taking part in a visionary new programme.

The youth village’s pioneering B’Shvil Yisrael Masa Yisraeli l’Bagrut Maleh (Israeli Journey to a Full Matriculation) class takes children from challenging backgrounds, who find it difficult to learn in ordinary class settings, on a voyage of self-discovery and self-realisation that is as inspiring as it is effective.

Noga Ben Yaacov

“These children are talented and smart but each has his or her own reasons that have kept them behind,” says the programme’s initiator Noga Ben Yaacov. “We take them on journeys that allow them the experience of coping with difficulties, so that they can recognise their strengths. Step by step, they experience success and so change how they are perceived – by themselves and others.”

The programme takes students out of the classroom and onto the road where they learn practical skills such as lighting a fire, cooking and cleaning as well as maths and English. And the places they visit on the way provide focal points for their learning in history, geography, Tanakh and citizenship.

Now experiencing a system that is allowing them to learn in a way that suits them, the children are headed towards passing matriculation exams that had previously seemed out of reach of many of them.

“Whether they want to become technicians, locksmiths or carpenters, I believe they should be able to make that choice with a matriculation certificate in their hand. Then they’ll have the opportunity to make a choice like everyone else,” said Noga.

Last year, the class went on a tour from Kfar Silver, near the coastal town of Ashkelon, to Jerusalem. A one-hour drive by car, it was a nine-day educational adventure under Noga’s direction.

Last week, the class walked 50 kilometres south-east to the Bedouin town of Rahat where they were graciously hosted by the Elobra family, one of whose members, Salah, is an 11th grader at Kfar Silver.     

They brought with them trees and herbs to plant with their peers, a joint activity for Tu B’Shevat which allowed the children to get to know each other. 

The heartwarming scenes in the video show an Israel usually ignored by the international media. For Noga, it’s the culmination of her own personal odyssey to make the programme a reality. Having received Ministry of Education approval for a pilot, Noga received knock backs from one school and educational network after another.

“Some wondered why kids like these needed to matriculate anyway,” she said. “Others liked the idea but couldn’t budget for it. Then, last summer, I met Shimon Solomon, the Director at World ORT Kadima Mada’s Kfar Silver Youth Village. He straight away told me, ‘Yes, we’ll do it. How? We’ll work it out.’ After that everything became much easier.”

For Mr Solomon, a former Knesset member for the centrist Yesh Atid party, taking on the programme was a no-brainer.

Shimon Solomon.

“Our youth village has a goal that these children will have a full matriculation certificate that will allow them freedom of choice – so we’re open to innovative programmes that we think will help us to achieve that,” he said. “We have seen a positive difference in the attitude of the students who take part in this programme. In my view, it has already proved to be a success.”

The youth village was founded 60 years ago by the Zionist Organisation of America and located in the south, near Gaza, to fulfil the Zionist dream of making the Negev bloom. Through programmes such as B’Shvil Yisrael Masa Yisraeli l’Bagrut Maleh, it is doing just that.