Monday, September 24, 2012

Merhav Ashkelon

Merhav aims to ensure that elementary school children from underprivileged communities are adequately prepared for junior high school. It does this by focusing on students, staff and city decision-makers. In schools, Merhav establishes cooperation between educational, psychological and welfare services. Through teacher training and supplemental resources, the school day is extended and in-school counseling, academic support and parent-child activities are made available. On a city level, Merhav places the needs of at-risk students firmly on the agenda.
Location: Harel School, Shai Agnon St. Shimshon Neighborhood, Ashkelon

RUT BEN-VALID is the school principal

School is usually open till 1pm. Three times a week they open till 5pm with activities, drama, youth movement. Here they have Noam (Conservatives). The school has won prizes. They have a psychologist once a week, social worker, therapist.

Animal therapy is especially for youth at risk, difficulties, children of drug addicts. Identified by their problems. Snake, hamster, rabbit. They learn to connect, to stroke, to be calm.
MIRI is the coordinator, I’ve seen and heard amazing things here. One boy’s father is in Assaf Harofe Hospital in Ramle, t he neighbors take care of me, he was crying. She explained later that the father is in jail, not hospital. It took four meetings for him to open up. They slowly open and share.

AYAL is holding the rabbit. It’s nice, it’s pleasant. I'm usually on edge (atzbani), I argue. Here I can overcome.

It’s a weak neighborhood. Rut says that since she's been here, “the strong have left and only the weak have remained.”
We go to the ‘lighthouse’ structure to see the gifted students’ ‘planetarium.’ They're learning about stars and the galaxies. They built a nature exhibit last year. Now they’re building a supernova. ZOHAR is the teacher.

We’re watching a dance troupe for girls from first to sixth grade. They work very hard on this, they love appearing.

DITI (Ashalim Merhav coordinator)
The program was developed in 2 003 now works in 30 locations. The pilot was Ashkelon and Afula.

RUT (Principal)
Merhav came in eight years ago. The neighborhood is classed as 8 in the 0-10 socioeconomic neglect scale (i.e. very poor and neglected). Lots of children-at-risk with parents who are unemployed, in jail, taking drugs, single-parents:
45% are single-parents
20% are immigrants
40% are veteran immigrants who didn’t yet adapt
We had a problem with violent parents, children were beaten, tough homes. Even violence inside the school, even against teachers. There was a negative atmosphere. We had 220 children. Now we have 450 children. Merhav said to us “dream” and we opened the school till 6pm. The holistic view, everything under one roof, responsibility for the child and also for the family. We can bring the family here to sit with the social worker. Let’s break the paradigm, let’s solve this together. We mapped everything out; all the children here were basically at-risk, not a percentage but all of them. We had to give a solution for all of them. The school became the center, we didn’t send them away. Social worker, psychologist, clothing, hot meal. Every year Rut has a group from France who bring packages of clothes and sneakers.
Rut: I was very young, I was 30 years old. There were shouts, screams, threats, violence. I was afraid to come in. They threatened to burn my car and more. We received three years of close escorting from a social worker. The children are no longer wandering the streets at night, little prostitution and drugs. Now we have a framework and activities. They have nothing at home.

We’ve become like a school in the North, we’re one of the top 56 schools in the country, see the movie they did. Everyone wants to send their kids here.  They even change addresses so they're here.
Rut is being promoted to the Education Ministry so she has mixed feelings. We raised people’s sense of pride here, we brought in new flooring. My husband is a doctor in the emergency room. When people want to thank him, to donate something, he suggests they give something to the school: flooring, clothing, furniture. Now the children also look after the school, it’s their home. It’s been a dream fulfilled to show the State we can succeed.

Our graduates are very much in demand in the middle school. This is a Tali school, we have good values.  Tali at first didn’t want to come in here. But now we received an award from them for excellence. The school is elementary for grades 1 through 6. There are still difficulties, it’s still a difficult population. But there's still a lot of pride. The parents now come with programmatic demands, they're proud of the school, it’s a successful model. Not because of the funds but because of the perspective. But you still need money.
There was opposition from the teachers, staying till 6pm. There was a strike, they were angry. But they saw it was successful. At lunch you see how the children are starving, they devour the food because it’s the only real meal they get all day.

The school is very influential now in the neighborhood. We have more parents who are teachers, doctors, police. About 10% are now stronger population, it strengthens us.  But at-risk isn’t just poverty. There was a family where the father was a policeman but the children were beaten. Even without financial problems you can have risk.

Merhav comes straight to the children without filters. The kids were amazed, they'd never been in activities, music, drama, dance. They didn’t know how to play an instrument, to listen to classical music, never been to theater.
We’ve won ten international prizes, the kids have won prizes for art and cinema. You have to believe in them. We became experts in building programs. They come from all over the country to see how our teachers work. We’ve learned how to teach. The kids are learning how to believe in themselves: I can do it, I can present, I can perform.

SHOVAL is one of 8 kids at home, 4 sets o f twins, 6th grade. There’s no father at home. He was violent and abusive. Today they're doing well because the pr ogram can help them. Elementary school is the base, it’s the infrastructure. It shapes the child. Without the activities we’d just be wandering the street, it’s so much nicer now. I can do music and theater; we put on a performance at the end of the last school year. We love the school, it’s like home. I want to be an
actress when I grow up.

[there are two special needs classes in Merhav here]

The parents don’t really have money, but we charge them 2 NIS per activity, so they’ll feel compelled. They also do a lot of fundraising for the school. Shuval received sneakers and clothes and a coat.

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