Full STEEM ahead

Rolling out JUF Israel’s new flagship education project

STEEM image
Young student scientist speaking to JUF Partnership 2Gether Committee in Israel.

When we were looking for a Partnership 2Gether (P2G) flagship project that would maximize our impact in Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir six years ago, it didn't take much effort to identify education as the one area in which the gaps were the most apparent and where our community could have the greatest influence.

Our flagship project, Israel Children's Zone (ICZ), provided a comprehensive intervention in the region's elementary schools, encompassing 6,500 students aged 6 to 12 as well as hundreds of teachers. We provided the schools with a full assessment of every child's need and supplied a basket of therapies and interventions,  to meet almost 100% of kids' needs-emotional, social, and academic.

As planned, the program ran for five years and established   the building blocks upon which the schools   will continue running it   with other funding sources. It was now time for us to build a new flagship project. Following   discussions with the educators and mayors in the region and their staff, and after researching many different needs, we concluded that the next flagship project would again support   education,  this time laser-focused on STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. We decided to augment with another "E," for English,   a skill  that too many in Israel's impoverished communities lack, in turn limiting   their one's  job prospects. Thus, ICZ 2.0 - STEEM was born.

With funding provided by   a community leader active in the Partnership, we partnered   with Intel Corporation and others in a yearlong mapping strategic planning process to identify the gaps and needs in our region's STEEM education.

We then identified two organizations specializing in scientific education and brought them together to form a unique, unified, and indeed unprecedented partnership to design and implement our  program: the Davidson Institute (the Weizmann Institute's educational arm) and Beit Yatziv, a teacher training center, offering cutting-edge methods of imparting STEEM learning to 21st century students.

The project   rolls out this month  in 17 schools and will eventually scale up to 24 schools-including Ultra-Orthodox s chools. It will create a STEEM ecosystem and "language" encompassing teachers, students, learning spaces, and a connection with the community at large.

By addressing the gaps in STEEM education among third to sixth graders, the project has a robust, long-term goal: to grow the number of students electing to study high-level math, physics, and science for their high school matriculation exams. There is a direct correlation between achievement in these subjects and eligibility for service in the Israel Defense Force's elite high- tech units.

After service   in those units, graduates of the STEEM initiative will have gained years of hands-on experience and access to countless possibilities for academic advancement and, ultimately, gainful employment in Israel's high-tech industry, which currently has a shortage of qualified engineers. With Intel, HP, and other tech companies employing thousands in Kiryat Gat, employment opportunities for alumni of our program are almost endless.

For the Chicago community, this project continues and expands upon our quarter century of high-impact involvement in the Partnership region. It can truly impact thousands of students-and their families. As we have seen with our first ICZ project, so again with ICZ/STEEM we already see a number of donors, in Chicago and in Israel, supplementing JUF's Partnership's allocation with their own funds, a sign of their trust in the project's ability to effect change.

For the leadership of our community in Chicago, both lay and professional, this project affords a source of tremendous pride. It is a way in which we stand by our sisters and brothers in Israel's periphery, providing them with an important project that augments the government's limited resources to help narrow the traditional educational gap between periphery and center. Where the government is unable to fulfill the needs of our students, philanthropy kicks in, and it does so in a professional and fiscally cautious manner.

Most importantly, this project allows hundreds of children in Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir to fulfill their potential and maximize resources otherwise unavailable to them. They deserve a chance to excel. The Chicago community provides them with the tools to do that-giving them a more promising horizon.

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.


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