At Kedma School, Hani Menashe is tired. She has been teaching all day, and will be tutoring tonight.
She is the first to admit that working at Kedma is not for everyone. “I would recommend a job here only for those with a big soul; who are ready to make large sacrifices to commit to long hours. You not only have to love the teaching, but the students too. And that can be a challenge times.”
Kedma is an experimental school in Katamonim, one of the toughest and poorest neighbourhoods in Jerusalem. Founded in 1994, it is celebrated as a model of how young people from disadvantaged communities can be empowered through school. It is not an easy mission, but Kedma is proving that with an academically rigorous environment, students from even the most deprived backgrounds can outperform the average in the national matriculation exam (the ‘bagrut’).
“Our secret is that we give our students the right to dream, often for the first time,” Menashe comments. “We help raise their aspirations, instil them with self-confidence and most importantly celebrate their diversity.” This last point is critical, particularly for a school which is located in the heart of a Mizrachi community, Jews from or descended from Middle Eastern countries. The school places an emphasis on instilling students with knowledge of their own culture, by teaching the history of the Mizrachim, a topic that is almost entirely neglected in Education Ministry textbooks. Remarkable considering that more than half of Israel’s Jewish population has Mizrachi roots.
Kedma is truly a school in and of its community. Many of the teachers live locally, and were brought up also into homes where they experienced the same difficulties and challenges that their students are dealing with today. “Because the children live in poverty, their dreams can be stolen from them. It is not that their parents do not care, but they are so busy making ends meet that they cannot give the time to the children that we are able to commit. When the school bell rings to end the day, we don’t just down tools – our work continues – as mentors.”
Like many schools, a key challenge is budget. With only a small proportion of Government funding, Kedma relies on money from donors – many of them American – for example Natan, the New York based philanthropic network of young Jews.
Despite the funding constraints, the vision for Kedma is to grow no larger than at present, with 150 students from 7th to 12th grade, with two teachers assigned to each class. The core curriculum of Maths, English, Language and Literature is taught in half-classes to ensure that students receive individual attention, vital to ensure that genuinely no child is left behind.
In the case of Kedma, size matters. Small is the secret to Kedma’s success. The Education Ministry is taking an interest in the school as a model for social change, and its potential to deliver a significant social return on investment. The challenge is whether the model can be replicated to enable other communities across Israel to benefit too. Menashe believes that it can, as long as new Kedma Schools are rooted in their community. If so, they too can teach small, enabling their students to dream big.
For more information on the Kedma School, see www.kedma-edu.org.il