Recent reforms to the Israeli educational system offer educators better teaching conditions and increased salaries, but for a number of Anglo teachers, the main incentive for coming into Israeli classrooms is the pleasure of volunteering.
Roughly 70 young Jewish-American English teachers recently arrived in Israel to take part in the "Israel Teaching Fellows" volunteer program. They will teach English to Israeli students on a volunteer basis as part of joint venture between the Ministry of Education and the Jewish Agency's MASA project.
The initiative will put Israel among a growing number of countries who employ college graduates with mother-tongue English to teach their youth the language. Plans are in the works to have the number of volunteer English teachers doubled for next year.
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Stephanie Block, 26, from Denver, arrived in Israel for the first time ever to take part in the program. "I taught English for a year in China and for another year in Spain," said Block, "but as a Jew I always wanted to get here. This amazing project offers a real experience - because creating personal relationships is the best way to discover a country and to feel connected."
This week the American volunteers were placed as English teaching assistants in various elementary schools around the country. Prior to their placements, program participants received preparatory training at Kibbutzim College for a number of weeks. There, they were introduced to the tenants of the Israeli educational system and its English curriculum, as well as undergoing a prep course to help the volunteers deal with cultural differences.
Program participants will live together in small groups in the communities in which they are assigned to teach. Cities expected to take part in the "Israel Teaching Fellows" volunteer program include Rishon LeZion, Rehovot, Netanya and Petach Tikva.
The fellows will receive a monthly food stipend as well as pedagogical training. In parallel to their teaching English, program participants will volunteer in after-school activities engaging students with extra-curricular activities in the fields of music, arts, drama, computers and sports. As part of the volunteer program, the Americans will enjoy Hebrew ulpan language classes, ongoing teacher training, trips around Israel, social events with both new immigrants and native Israelis, and the option of staying with host families.
"We are benefiting twice from this educational initiative," said Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky. "We are strengthening the bond between Diaspora Jews and Israel, which is the main motivation behind aliyah to the country, as well as serving to broaden English education within Israel's periphery."
MASA, managed by the MASA Company Ltd., is a Israel-based non-profit organization that brings more than 10,000 Jewish youth from more than 60 countries around the world to Israel annually. MASA has upwards of 160 programs offering young Diaspora Jews the opportunity to spend a semester or a year in Israel as part of various volunteer initiatives, academic programs or professional internship programs. MASA's main aim is to enable Jewish youth (ages 18 to 30) from around the world to build a lasting relationship with Israel, strengthening their Jewish identity, and helping them gain a meaningful and beneficial experience by way of long-term programs in Israel.
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