"It's rare to hear kids say they “love school” - and that's true for all kids, everywhere. But in the Amit school system, that expression of affection is a bit less rare", says Dr. Francine S. Stein, President of Amit. “Kids travel for an hour or more to come to school, and they rave about their teachers. If that's not loving school, then what is?”
Amit is an 85 year old organization that runs more than 85 facilities – including schools, youth villages, surrogate homes and child care groups- all over Israel, with an emphasis on peripheral areas, excepting Judea and Samaria. Established in 1925, Amit teaches students about Jewish tradition and values, tolerance, unity and respect – as well as vocational or academic studies. Altogether, more than 20,000 youngsters are in the Amit framework. Dr. Stein was in Israel this week for a special Amit educational awards ceremony held to celebrate accomplishments by students throughout the system.
Originally associated with vocational and technological programs when that seemed the answer to Israel's immigrant populations needs, the educational objectives have turned to academic endeavor. Over the years, Amit has developed a number of innovative programs to help kids excel, says Dr. Stein. “Out latest program is called Tochnit 80, in which we aim to ensure that 80 percent of all students pass their bagrut matriculation examinations at the end of high school.” That would be a substantial improvement over the average Israeli bagrut pass rate, which is about 60 percent right now, and even over the current Amit average, which is 70 percent.
“The program is a holistic one,” says Dr. Stein. “We show the kids positive, successful role models – adults who have succeeded, in order to inspire them to succeed themselves. It's unlikely that they got such role models at home.” And, successful students make successful adults, says Dr. Stein – 92 percent of Amit graduates go on to serve in the IDF or participate in National Service.
Indeed, Amit stresses academic excellence in all of its programs. In August, for example, three students at the AMIT Junior and Senior High School in Be'er Sheva won first, second and fourth place awards at the recent First Step to the Nobel Prize in Physics competition held in Warsaw, Poland. This is the third year in a row that an AMIT student from Be'er Sheva, wich has a large Russian immigrant student body, captured one of the coveted gold medals in this prestigious competition.
Amit works not only in communities on the periphery – it works to ensure that kids from peripheral communities are able to succeed as well. “For example, we have many students from Ethiopian communities in schools all over the country,” says Dr. Stein. “During the first years of Ethiopian aliyah, we had many kids living in dormitories and youth villages. Now most of them stay at home with their families, as that has become the norm, and we encourage them to be proud of their culture. For example, we invite parents of Ethiopian kids in the schools to come and share traditions of their special days, like the Sigd celebration which just passed,” she says.
Amit has many success stories – youngsters who graduated and went on to establish businesses and become community leaders. “One of the most touching is of a young man from a broken home who from the age of five lived in an Amit youth village, and went straight through to high school. Now he's grown up, and works as a videographer – and he's making a movie of the school he grew up in!”