This week on Café Oleh, we interview Nefesh B''Nefesh Education and Community Advisor Adina Schwartz on tips for oleh-parents transitioning their children to the Israeli schools.  She works with parents to find the right schools and neighborhoods for their family and guides young adults through their higher education options.  Adina also runs workshops, webinars, and one-on-one meetings in North America, England and Israel with potential and new Olim.

 Photo: Courtesy Nefesh B''Nefesh
For many potential olim, the Israeli educational system is a bit of a confusing place. What kind of options are available to new olim in terms of educational choices?
There are many options available to new Olim in both public and semi-private schools. National-religious schools offer a dual curriculum of Jewish and general studies, while secular schools offer a comprehensive general studies curriculum. Semi-private schools in both sectors provide specialized educational programming in science, nature studies, art, Torah, Judaism and music. The ultra-orthodox sector offers a dual curriculum for girls and a limited general studies curriculum for boys.

What are the different factors that parents should consider when choosing schools for their children?
 Parents should be honest with themselves about which school features are important to them, as they will, and should continue to play a primary role when they make aliya. Maintaining continuity and consistency with the current values of one’s home will enable children and the entire family make a healthy adjustment to life in Israel.

Does the ministry of education do anything special in terms of helping oleh-children adjust to their new communities and integrate into their new classrooms? Are any special resources available to oleh-children to help them make smoother transitions?
The Ministry of Education provides six weekly hours of ulpan lessons during the first two years of Aliyah. In Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh and Modiin, there is a centralized children’s ulpan in which the students study Hebrew full-time for a few months during their first year in Israel.

Often, schools with a sizable olim population have an olim coordinator on staff who helps both the children and their families with the transition process. Volunteer English-speaking parents also welcome the families and help them throughout their first year.

What can parents do ahead of time to help ease the transition? What major hurdles should families anticipate?
Prepare children, on an age-appropriate level, by discussing the move well in advance. Help them to balance their anxiety of leaving their familiar surroundings, family and friends with the excitement of moving to Israel, making new friends and having new experiences. Try to engage them in learning Hebrew as much as possible.
Parents should expect a bumpy beginning. It takes time, energy and resilience for children to learn the language, make friends and feel comfortable in their new surroundings.

How are the needs of older and younger children different when choosing appropriate schools?
Older children require a more intensive support system than younger ones. In addition to the ulpan hours that they receive in school, they need after-school tutoring to help them with all of the various school subjects.

Any words of advice?
Come on a pilot trip prior to your Aliyah so that you can thoroughly research the different school options and find the ones that best suit your children’s needs. Take advantage of the Nefesh B’Nefesh school database and articles about education in Israel. Sign up for NBN webinars on education. Network with your friends, family and NBN education advisors so that you can learn from their experiences and impressions.

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