The Yeshivot Bnei Akiva-affiliated TO"M (Torah and Miktzoa) school will be awarded the Education Prize for 2007/8 at a gala ceremony at Beit Hanassi today. As Education Ministry Dir.-Gen. Yechiel Shilo said when the prize was announced: "This prize is awarded for the great investment in thought, planning and execution, with great wisdom, understanding and attention to the needs of the students." This year is also significant for the school for another reason, as it marks 50 years since the school's founding. The Emek Hefer-based institution caters mostly to new Ethiopian immigrants, a large percentage of whom are Falash Mura, Principal David Elbaum told The Jerusalem Post during a visit to the campus. Eighty percent of the 280 pupils are Ethiopians, and the rest are native Israelis, immigrants from the FSU and from India. The religious school has a dual track system, which prepares its charges for life in Israel. They come to TO"M for two reasons: to study for their conversion after ninth grade and get a Jewish education, then to acquire practical technical skills to help them find good positions in the IDF and then in the real world. TO"M is an acronym for "Torah and Miktzoa," which has been loosely translated into "Torah and Technology." Pupils choose from several technological tracks: Electricity and Electronics, Computerized Automotive Systems and Mechanical Engineering (computerized design and production.) About 70 percent complete full high school matriculation - well above the national average - in addition to receiving a Technological Diploma. Over 85% of the pupils are on scholarships from the Education Ministry's Youth Aliya Department. Of the 280 current pupils, 220 live in dormitories on campus and the rest commute from nearby communities, Elbaum said. While providing an excellent technical education - its pupils are highly sought after by the technical branches of the army - the school also tries to provide a warm and homey atmosphere for its young olim. There are extracurricular activities which connect them back to their roots, such as a karar band. A karar is a traditional Ethiopian musical instrument. "We do not try to tear them away from their roots, we try to strengthen them. We have a program, 'Know from Whence you Come,' which helps them connect to their roots," Elbaum said. "We also place a lot of emphasis on including the parents in the process," he continued, "We have programs where fathers and sons can study together. I also do not accept any pupil without a parent present," Elbaum told the Post from his office piled high with trophies. "The parents point out to us that though they were not educated in Ethiopia, they have a lot of life experience. And they have very definite views on educating their children," he added. Nisim, a computer teacher, said that the kids spent a lot of time downloading Ethiopian music and surfing Ethiopian Web sites. Elbaum's office is filled with trophies because the school's track team has taken prizes in national competitions for 28 consecutive years. They've represented Israel in international competitions for 12 years, as well. The only time they don't compete is when the international tournaments conflict with Shabbat or holidays. Because most of its pupils remain on the campus for much of the year, the school goes above and beyond what most high schools do to provide for their charges. Medical and dental coverage is provided. The kids help take care of the school grounds alongside the gardener. They also clean their own rooms, which were spotless during the Post's visit. Having been given so much, the pupils also give back. They volunteer to help younger children in a special education program in Hadera, and they also take part in the Metzila mediation program designed to replace violent solutions to problems in favor of negotiated ones. For many, TO"M becomes a second home. "One kid came back from the army to design his unit's logo on the computers," Elbaum said. Eli Cohen, 46, who graduated TO"M in 1980 had nothing but praise for the school and its contributions. "TO"M is the best thing that has happened to me. It is like my second home. The principal really invests in the students," he told the Post in a phone interview Thursday. Cohen, whose parents came from Morocco, said the school straightened him out. "What I didn't achieve in elementary school in Jerusalem, I achieved there," he said, "That is where I grew up, that is my home. I'm not the only one who says it, a lot of kids do." Cohen has now returned to Jerusalem and is a supervisor at a security company. But his connection with the school did not end after graduation. He returned to live and teach there. "I lived and worked there. I taught there and my children were born there. I still get invited to the Brit milahs (circumcisions) of my pupils," he told the Post. This year, the school opened two new intensive tracks - one for more religious studies and one for those who excelled in their studies and would like to continue to university. Elbaum said the school had plans to improve its offerings next year, too. "We want to offer a 13th grade, where they can get a certificate in Electricity and Electronics," he said. Yeshivot Bnei Akiva runs 57 educational institutions across the country in which 21,000 pupils study. The schools are not affiliated with the youth movement of the same name.