Jodi Rosenberg traveled to Israel this Spring with her husband to meet their son, Brandon, who is currently studying on EIE. She writes about a day in the life of an EIE student from her perspective.
Earlier this year, my husband and I traveled to Israel on NFTY-EIE’s Parents’ Pilgrimage, along with over 70 other family members to visit their sons, daughters, siblings and grandchildren. We came to visit our son, Brandon, a junior from Short Hills, New Jersey. While we enjoyed a wonderful ten days filled with touring, eating, and festivities, expertly planned by EIE’s staff, the most enlightening day was spent auditing our children’s classes. The students are exposed at EIE to a learning model that is both unique and highly effective.
The school week begins on Sunday (Yes, Sunday!). Breakfast was at 7:30 AM. This is very different from back home, where Brandon sleeps in after an exhausting week. In Israel, Sunday is the beginning of the week. There are no bells signaling the beginning and end of class, but like college students, they all get where they need to be. As if on cue, everyone entered class at 8:15 AM. Since their classrooms are about a one-minute walk from their rooms and they have breaks between each class, the students were not weighed down by heavy backpacks, but instead, were carrying drinks and snacks. Most strikingly, they were all smiling! This is in stark contrast to the hordes of students at American high schools who shuffle into school with their heads down, dreading another demanding day.
The EIE classrooms are small, basic, and efficient, in buildings that resemble cabins at overnight camp. Students began the day with Hebrew, and are separated into small classes, depending on their familiarity with the language. With only seven students in Brandon’s class, participation is mandatory. The class reminded me of preschool at our hometown Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, where the students learn through song and prayer. They even receive candy when they get an answer right! They were having so much fun that it hardly seemed like school! As they are learning the language of the land in which they are temporarily living, they get daily opportunities to reinforce their lessons. Not only are they excelling at Hebrew, but they are eligible for college credits for their studies. How amazing is that!
The next morning class was Jewish History. Although it is over two hours long, Brandon’s teacher David Alon kept the students and their parents entertained the entire time. Again, class participation is fundamental and the students joyously participate. The curriculum is comprehensive and builds upon tiyulim, which are trips that the students take. The land is literally their classroom! For example, David presented slides of the Jewish Diaspora that tied into exhibits that we saw later in the week at the Israel Museum and on our trip to Tzfat. A highlight of their curriculum included a trip to Poland under the personal guide of their adored Jewish History teacher. I can’t believe this is school!
At around 1 PM, a more traditional school day began. Most students have five general studies courses that run in 45 minute increments through 7:15 PM. These classes complement each student’s curricula from his or her hometown school. Although Brandon’s schedule is arranged such that his lunch break is after 3 PM., his madrichim make snacks and sandwiches available to sustain him until his break. He has no complaints, as his room has a refrigerator and microwave and is stocked with snacks from Kibbutz Tzuba’s market.
I am awed by the small class sizes and personal attention and accessibility of each teacher. For example, since Brandon is one of four students in both his chemistry and math classes, his teachers can ensure the students understand each principle before moving on. Brandon’s English and US History classes are similarly small and nurturing. Most surprisingly, Brandon’s French class takes place in the lobby of Kibbutz Tzuba’s Belmont Hotel, where he and his teacher have a private session. Since his teacher speaks mostly Hebrew and he speaks mostly English, they are able to really focus on speaking French and preparing for the upcoming AP exam. With a one-on-one class, it as if he is homeschooled.
Based on this personal attention, there is no issue in keeping up with his curriculum from his hometown school and he is likely ahead of his classmates at home. As all of the general studies classes are small and focused, another benefit is a much smaller amount of homework than in the US. The teachers are skilled at teaching and reinforcing within the same class and know that busywork is unnecessary.
To summarize, here is what I learned:
- NFTY-EIE offers more than its website could ever display. These lucky students are given the most wonderful opportunity to live and learn in a collegial atmosphere and completely immerse into Israeli culture.
- Students thrive in a supportive atmosphere. By living in a communal setting, the students were more supportive and less competitive with each other than back at home.
- At age 16, my son has already experienced a form of college. He will have a smooth transition when he begins college.
- EIE is rigorous, yet nurturing. There are many students taking the SAT and ACT exams and up to four Advanced Placement exams, yet I did not see one stressed out student. Although these students attend school until 7:15 PM and on Sundays, they are not consumed with homework and actually sleep at night.
- Treating students as adults and giving them independence and confidence helps them mature at an exponential rate.
- These students truly love learning and every student has a chance to shine.
- Not enough people know about how great EIE is–every time I tell someone about Brandon’s experience, they ask me how I found out about it.
My husband and I are very grateful that we found EIE and are glad we have two more students to send on this wonderful program!