Some 100 teachers from English speaking countries are partaking in a special project to teach English as a Second Language to underprivileged elementary school pupils in Israel.
TALMA, the Israel Program for Excellence in English, is an ESL-immersion summer program for children in low income municipalities run in collaboration with the Education Ministry, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Steinhardt Family Foundation in Israel.
“We call it the ‘11th month of public education,’” Alon Futterman, TALMA’s director recently told The Jerusalem Post.
The program places young teachers from English speaking countries, mainly the United States, in classrooms with Israeli counterparts to co-teach English to pupils in Grades 4 to 6.
According to Futterman, the program provides unique opportunities and benefits for the pupils as well as both the foreign and Israeli teachers.
“We know there is a direct link between higher education and employment. Today to get into higher education you need five units [on the secondary school matriculation certificate] of English,” he explained. “If you want to increase the chances that a child will get into university, you need to invest in the first years when children are learning English.”
For the elementary school pupils, the program provides them with a chance they would likely not receive otherwise to improve their English language skills.
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“This is a full immersion program, so everything is in English,” he explained. “The first part of the day is spent learning English, while during the second part children are engaging in fun educational projects. This is meaningful learning.”
He added, “Children need to believe that they can learn English, and the program develops their confidence.”
For the Israeli teachers, the program provides the opportunity to co-teach and learn from foreign educators, Futterman explained.
“For Israeli teachers, they suddenly are able to co-teach, which doesn’t really exist in Israel, and the experience of working with someone else from the other side of the world makes them better teachers,” he said.
He added that for the American teachers, the program provides a unique experience enabling them to teach but also to connect to Israel on a more meaningful level.
“It’s really nice for the [foreign] teachers to come here and not just go to Masada, the Dead Sea and Jerusalem but to connect to the people and the country based on their profession,” he said.
“We have people coming here who haven’t been here since Birthright. They are deepening their connection,” he added. “If you manage to create an international community of educators that come to Israel every summer, you know that the communal side of it and the relationships that are being created are meaningful.”
TALMA was launched in 2014 as a pilot program in two municipalities alongside the School of Summer program initiated by then Education Minister Shai Piron.
The School of Summer initiative provided a low-cost alternative to the private summer camps for an estimated 180,000 children in first and second grades, as well as to some 30,000 children in third and fourth grades living in the geographical and social periphery.
The program was set to be expanded last year but was postponed due to the elections. This year it was supposed to include all third and fourth graders as well, but the education ministry announced it was postponing the expansion of the program.
The postponement also affected the TALMA project, since in the absence of promised funding from the Education Ministry, local municipalities that wanted to continue offering the English summer program were forced to find additional sources of funding, Futterman explained.
Despite this setback, the program has continued to expand, and this year is operating in Jerusalem, Nazareth Illit, Migdal Ha’emek, Kiryat Malachi and Mitzpe Ramon with more than 5,000 pupils participating.
“Mayors are prioritizing education,” Futterman said, adding that the increased interest in implementing the program is a testament to the success and the need for TALMA.
“In Israel, there is a new understanding that school is not just from September to June,” he said. “The summer time shouldn’t just be for a ‘choco and lahmania’ (chocolate milk and bread roll – a common Israeli snack) but for meaningful learning.”
Tatiana Hakimian, a Grade 1 reading teacher from New York told The Jerusalem Post that the TALMA program has been a “challenging but fantastic experience.”
This is the second year Hakimian is participating in the initiative. Last year she taught pupils in Migdal Ha’emek, and this year she is teaching Grade 3 pupils in Mitzpe Ramon.
“Teaching in the desert is an opportunity I would not have otherwise,” she said. “It is a small town where everyone knows everyone. We almost feel like we are a part of this small community, not as outsiders visiting as tourists but we live and we work there.”
Hakimian said she has a strong connection with Israel. Her grandparents live here and she would frequently visit as a child.
“Being able to combine Israel and teaching is ideal for me,” she said. “Israel is my second home, and so teaching here would be the ideal place to do this. There is no place I would rather teach then here.”
Hakimian, who shares her classroom with two co-teachers, said the experience has enabled them to combine their skills to teach the kids in “the best possible way.”
“Mitzpe Ramon is a low income area and we just want to give the kids an opportunity that they would not have had otherwise, and we would not have otherwise too,” she said. “I know that we are making a difference for these kids because we went out of our way to come here and do this.”
She added that the project has enabled her to meet teachers from all over the world, and has provided her with new tools to develop professionally.
“I’m looking forward to see how TALMA is going to expand. It is amazing to see how much it’s growing and how many people they are able to reach, and I’m looking forward to see how many kids they can help and how many teachers worldwide can have this awesome experience,” she said.
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