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Jerusalem English Speaking Youth Get Another Chance

A boys and girls high school, YTA, is getting Jerusalem's troubled English-speaking youth off the streets and into the classroom.
By Derek Cling
First Publish: 5/10/2010, 12:59 PM / Last Update: 5/10/2010, 4:44 PM

YTA

A new girl’s Yeshiva high school for English speakers in Jerusalem, YTA (Yerushalayim Torah Academy) for Girls, is opening in the coming school year. The school’s founder, Rabbi David Samson, opened a YTA for Boys two years ago in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, after seeing the great need for such an institution first hand. Rabbi Samson spoke with Israel National Radio’s Eli Stutz about both schools. Click here to listen to the interview.

"I began with schools for youth at risk," Rabbi Samson says. "I would get English speakers, and the only reason why they turned into youth at risk is simply that they couldn’t speak Hebrew."

According to Rabbi Samson, approximately 40 percent of olim over the age of 13 cannot succeed in a yeshiva high school in Hebrew because of the language barrier. These teens, he relates, "fall out of the school system and turn to the streets – and after two years on the streets, become youth at risk." 

Rabbi Samson decided to open a yeshiva high school for these students so they can learn in English. At YTA, students have the option of taking "bagruts," the Israeli matriculation examinations, in English. "We have a special ulpan [language class] to teach them the specific terminology they'll need to take the bagrut," he explains, "so that they’ll know how to understand the questions on the questionnaire." YTA is integrated with and located inside Yeshivat Netiv Meir. "Our idea is that the students who are able to, can just pass over to the Netiv Meir Israeli program," says Rabbi Samson.

With its increasing success, YTA has brought about a need to create an equal program for girls in the coming year in conjunction with the Tzvia L'Umaniyot high school in Ramat Eshkol, Jerusalem, for "girls who need the same thing," Rabbi Samson says."

When asked if he thinks the school could be counterproductive by preventing students from becoming more quickly integrated into Israeli society, Rabbi Samson admits, "I believe there is an inkling of that, but the school is meant for teens who simply can't make it in an Israeli high school. I would say that out of the 50 students we have, 48 of them do not have an alternative. What we constantly do is gauge the situation to see if a student can possibly transfer over to Netiv Meir – we encourage that so that we are not going to have a lot of students who are growing up in a bubble."

In terms of YTA's academic standards, it offers a quality, internationally recognized curriculum coupled with dynamic, technologically savvy teaching tools. "Our banner is excellence in education," he explains. "We have a state-of-the-art campus with smartboard computerized classrooms – we believe in state-of-the-art presentations. All our staff are highly qualified educators – most of our teachers give Powerpoint presentations even in Gemara. I teach Gemara using Youtube videos to give examples of the different concepts. Our students can also take five-point Math, Statistics, Biology, English, and Talmud." Five-point bagrut examinations are the advanced level in each subject, although three and four point level examinations also serve to qualify for a Bagrut Certificate.

Rabbi Samson is the author of five books on Rav Kook's philosophy, including Torat Eretz Israel, an anthology of Religious Zionism. He says that YTA's religious outlook and philosophy is very much in the spirit of religious Zionism. "Along with that," he adds, "we're eclectic and happy to accept anybody."

YTA can be contacted online at www.yta.org.il.