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Nov 12, 2010

Federation-Funded Mentoring Program a ‘Win-Win’ for Ethiopian-Israeli Teachers and Students

One of the ways the Greater Miami Jewish Federation continues to assist the people of Israel is through a partnership with the Ethiopian-Israeli community in Pardes Channa-Karkur, a city located near Haifa, Israel.

Since 2005, Federation has supported a number of programs in Pardes Channa-Karkur for different segments of the population, including a mentoring program for elementary school students being coordinated by Haifa’s Gordon College of Education.

For many Ethiopian-Israeli immigrant families, difficulties in acculturation have prevented the adults from being a solid source of support for their children, impacting the students’ development and self-confidence in their abilities, as well as their scholastic maturity and success at school.

Youngsters at three schools in Pardes Channa-Karkur are being mentored by teachers trained by Gordon College’s faculty. The mentors spend 38 hours per week with 45 children. One of the areas mentors work on with the students, explained Dr. Rhonda Sofer, Head of Gordon’s Multicultural Educational Resource Center, is building self-esteem through games and learning skills.

“We empower these kids so that they’re able to participate not only as equals, but also as educators,” said Sofer. She explained that, rather than just sitting in class and learning from their mentors, the students sometimes lead the day’s lessons themselves. “How much better can a kid feel when they can stand in front of their classroom and teach them something? That’s self-esteem; that’s empowerment.”

While the program is meaningful for the students, there is also a benefit for their mentors: Participating in this program counts as their New Teacher First Year Apprenticeship, and enables them to become licensed teachers with Israel’s Ministry of Education. Working through Gordon College’s program, mentors also receive a small stipend and, where possible, assistance with job placement.

Language and cultural issues have been barriers for Ethiopian assimilation into Israeli society, but those hurdles are lessened by having Ethiopian teachers in the classroom who can more easily relate to Ethiopian students. Only about 50 of the nation’s 150,000 educators are Ethiopian, explained Sofer, so it’s a big deal when Ethiopian-Israeli children and their parents can walk into the classroom and see Ethiopian teachers.

“Until there are Ethiopian teachers, their integration into Israeli society will not be complete,” she said.

Mark Tanenbaum, Chair of Federation’s Pardes Channa-Karkur Ethiopian-Israeli Initiative, has worked extensively with Ethiopian communities in Israel, and he has seen the effect the program has had on self-esteem and self-image over the years. “At first these children didn’t have the confidence and self-esteem to feel that they could succeed,” he said. “Once that feeling was instilled in them, then the doors opened for them to be able to improve greatly in their academic studies.”

Tanenbaum added that it is hoped that the success of the mentoring program – which they plan to eventually use as a template for other communities in Israel with large Ethiopian populations — will lead to more well-adjusted students and, in turn, reduce the need for intervention programs for at-risk youth.

To learn more about the work Federation is doing in Ethiopian communities in Israel, email our Israel and Overseas Department or call 786.866.8445.

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