Wow, as of today we’re officially here for six months! Really amazing how time has flown by, and especially amazing when I think that a year ago, we had just started tossing out the idea of making the move.
Today I’m going to share about my experiences with the local schools in responding to the needs of our children as new immigrants. I’m going to warn you in advance, it’s going to sound kind of negative and I don’t like being negative, but people who are considering aliyah should know the reality they may face. So here is my experience to date.
I’ll skip over the littlest kids since they don’t really get or need special help in adapting to the schools. Thank G-d, ds4 and ds5 are doing well, even though ds4 asks to stay home every single day.
The government has mandated hours that new immigrant children are supposed to receive to facilitate their absorption into Israeli culture. This mean every child is entitled to a certain amount of ulpan (Hebrew language) hours. Here’s the current guidelines: if there are 1 – 2 students in the school who are new olim, there is funding for six hours; 3 – 5 students, funding for ten hours; 6 – 7 students, funding for twelve hours. It seems that because our children are in the chinuch atzmai/independent religious school system, that they don’t get the government hours that all the other schools in the country get.
Notwithstanding the lovely sounding hours that children are supposed to get, not one of our kids has ever received more than two periods a week – at best. Ds9 -his school has been most responsive, and immediately began giving him tutoring assistance when he arrived. However, his tutor is also assigned to tutor anyone else in the school who needs help, and to fill in for teachers who don’t show up, which cuts into his availability. Ds9’s participation in the program that he was supposed to begin immediately after the meeting with the principal a couple of weeks ago, which I agreed to because it would give him more one on one support (that my attendance at the parenting classes is mandated for), has yet to begin.
Dd11 – gets two periods a week when the tutor is available; if she doesn’t come for whatever reason, there are no substitutes. She didn’t begin getting tutored until about two months into the school year – that meant sitting for hours in a class with absolutely no comprehension, and no assistance in building a rudimentary language base. When she was willing and open to learning the language, no one was there to help her, and when she finally got tutoring, her tutor was teaching her at well above her ability. (I wrote about this a while ago.) Now she has a good tutor to work with her, who I’ve spoken with at length and who understands where dd is coming from.
Ds13 – his school said it’s too much work to file the paperwork to apply for the funding available for him, and that it’s up to us to hire a private tutor. Their help to him has been being gracious enough to let him sit in their classes and take our tuition money.
Dd15 and dd17 – they began getting tutoring two months after the school year began. This took some time and advocating on my part, but once they got a tutor, she was fabulous. Dd15 is really getting a lot out of this. The only concern I had was it seemed that dd17 wasn’t getting much tutoring. At first I thought they were giving dd15 more help because dd17 started with stronger spoken Hebrew. Then we thought her absences were coinciding with her tutoring sessions (it’s not at a regular time), or that there were other reasons she rarely seemed to be getting tutoring. It’s just come to light that they have totally dropped dd17 from the tutoring roster – I’m giving the benefit of the doubt that it’s because they know she won’t be taking the matriculation exams, though the reason she’s supposed to have the help is for language acquisition, not because of these tests. I have another meeting scheduled with her principal to talk about these concerns on Tuesday morning.
In the last ten days, I’ve had a number of meetings with principals, teachers, and tutors. It takes so much energy to explain the reality of kids having to start over with a new language, culture, friends, home. They really don’t have a realistic understanding of what’s involved, which obviously limits them in how much practical or emotional help they give. The administrative knee jerk reaction when faced with a child who isn’t performing at a typical level, is to label a child as being emotionally closed, perfectionist, learning disabled or whatever else rather than really be in tune with the level of changes immigrant children have to make, and look at how little support these kids are getting within the school system in making the transition. (I had a fascinating and telling experience with this last week when I took ds5 for his evaluation prior to registering for first grade.)
I’m not an unreasonable and pushy parent, and I’ve been pretty positive about the school system until now; I’m not actually feeling negatively now. What I’m doing is sharing the reality that I’m consistently seeing regarding academic assistance for our kids – it’s been pretty pathetic. It makes me wonder how other people who are new to the country are dealing with the schools. I speak Hebrew well and have consistently been able to advocate for my kids – for those who don’t speak Hebrew well (which is most new olim/immigrants) and aren’t able to supplement their children’s education at home (I’ll share about what I’ve been doing in another post), how are they handling this?
I wonder how much different this would be if we lived in the center of the country, where there are loads of Anglos, rather than in the periphery, where our kids are among the very first that these teachers and administrators have had to deal with. I think it’s likely it’s hard for everyone everywhere, because making such a big move is really a big deal, with a lot of potential for trauma.
To sum up about the issue of school responsiveness. I don’t know if my experience is typical or not. I would expect it would be, since our kids are emotionally healthy, they have a great attitude, and overall their adjustment has been good. Our experience is probably better than many for those reasons. But I wouldn’t say their school experiences have been an incredibly helpful or positive factor in their acclimatizing well.