PICO Kids: Inspiring Jerusalem’s next generation

The children and teens at PICO Kids carry the organization’s values with them as they develop their skills and prepare for entry into the world of technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

 THE PICO KIDS Ambassador Program participants alongside the participating Dubai high schoolers at the conclusion of the Makeathon. (photo credit: Barak Alkobi)
THE PICO KIDS Ambassador Program participants alongside the participating Dubai high schoolers at the conclusion of the Makeathon.
(photo credit: Barak Alkobi)

The children and teens at PICO Kids carry the organization’s values with them as they develop their skills and prepare for entry into the world of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Deep in the heart of Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood, children and teens from across the city are being introduced to a whole new world of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in the PICO Kids Makerspace.

The PICO Kids flagship program, now in its eighth year, allows the youth of Jerusalem to explore and develop their skills in a variety of areas including 3D printing, coding, photography, graphic design, and more. From their PICO Stars program for first and second graders, all the way through to their PICO Ambassadors program for ninth and 10th-grade students, the program allows Jerusalem’s youth to develop their skills and prepare for their entry into the world of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Most recently, the PICO Ambassadors program saw a delegation of 16 Jerusalem teens visit Dubai for a whirlwind trip, the peak of which was a “makeathon” with Dubai high schoolers, where they worked together to solve the shared regional issue of water scarcity.

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post ahead of the trip, PICO Venture Partners cofounder Elie Wurtman explained his vision for his flagship program.

 

 PICO Kids Ambassadors at the Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park Innovation Center (credit: PICO KIDS) PICO Kids Ambassadors at the Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park Innovation Center (credit: PICO KIDS)

“When I founded PICO Kids, I really felt that in the next generation there is a tremendous opportunity to forward Israel’s perception in innovation around the world,” he explained. “My goal is that these kids understand how to be an ambassador of Israel, of our values, and how to share with the kids in Dubai who they are, where they’re from, and what’s important to them.”

Speaking to the participants in the PICO Ambassadors Dubai delegation, it is easy to see how closely they carry these values with them, and how much the program has impacted their lives and their identities.

“I joined PICO Kids a year-and-a-half ago, I found them through a coding program for girls,” 15-year-old Shoval told the Post. “I realized that I was starting to work on myself and found ways to improve, in my English abilities or in myself, and I found friends. I would never have found these friends outside of this program, we would never have interacted, we are all from different places.”

While Shoval found herself surrounded by friends she would never have imagined herself meeting, for others, PICO was more of a family affair.

Many of the participants in the Dubai delegation shared stories of how they joined PICO Kids, all with a common thread woven through them. Many explained that a sister, a brother, or a cousin had inspired them to join the program.

“My younger sister is also part of PICO Kids,” one participant told the Post. “She took part in a makeathon today too, at the same time as ours, but in Tel Aviv. My cousin is also part of PICO... there’s a whole generation of us.”

“My brother started taking part in PICO, and from here to there, five years later here I am,” another participant chimed in.

FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD PICO Kids Ambassador Matan has experienced firsthand the change the program can make to the life of a young teen in Jerusalem. Speaking to the Post, he described his journey with the organization, and the skills he has gained from it, from 3D printing to public speaking and beyond.

“The freedom in PICO is my favorite part,” he explained, clearly passionate about the subject. “I can do anything I want, or make anything I want. One time I just built a spoon out of wood, just for fun. We went in [to the makerspace] on the way back from school. I said, ‘Let’s go make a spoon,’ and we went and made a spoon.

“I also made a phone holder in the shape of tentacles,” he added proudly.

Asked what was the most valuable skill he has learned since joining PICO Kids, Matan answered without hesitation.

“What I learned the most was how to have confidence in a group and learning how to speak in public, on stage. I was terrible at it at the start and now I’m a million percent better. My speaking has improved, and my English too, even though I knew the language before.

“We did a year and a half of weekly public speaking training,” he continued, “and my confidence when speaking to big crowds... it’s one of my favorite things. When you’re speaking and looking into everyone’s eyes, it’s magnetic, when everyone is hanging onto every word, it’s incredible.

“I’ve gained so many skills from this [PICO] but public speaking is the main one.”

But Matan gained more from PICO than he originally set out to when program manager Meidan Alkobi took him under his wing during COVID-19 after realizing that Matan was lacking structure.

“There was a time when I didn’t go to any school at all,” Matan told the Post. “We didn’t have teachers or classes or anything, and during COVID-19 there was nothing at all, I had no school for a year, so I just had free time on my hands.

“I thought to myself, I want to change my school, I’m not learning anything, so I had an extra two months of free time [when school restarted]. Meidan heard that and said tomorrow you’re here at 10 a.m. and I said OK.

“Meidan taught me how to use every tool in the workshop,” he added.

Over the next two months, Matan worked under the mentorship of Alkobi, learning how to build and clean equipment, setting up projects, and mastering each tool and every technique available to him. “In those two months I learned more than I’ve learned my entire life,” he said proudly, explaining that this was the best thing he felt he had ever done for his education.

Today, Matan studies in one of Jerusalem’s best high schools after successfully passing the acceptance test thanks to the knowledge he gained from his public speaking classes at PICO Kids, and he credits his success to the two months he spent shadowing Alkobi and learning under him.

“I think that’s what it is about PICO,” he concludes thoughtfully. “It gives you skills for life. It makes you such an interesting person, it makes you more alive.”