A second chance for a first-class education

Kedma's small-class, mentorship model for disadvantaged pupils in the Katamonim is increasing education and vocational opportunities for graduates.

Kedma pupils 521 (photo credit: Sharis Delgadillo)
Kedma pupils 521
(photo credit: Sharis Delgadillo)
Adam Edelstein attends Kedma, a small Jewish high school in the Katamonim. He is a Mizrahi Jew, raised by a single mother. He was expelled from high school for behavioral problems, which began to improve once he started Kedma.
Now he wants to pursue a professional career in 3-D animation for movies and commercials. Kedma has nurtured his new ambition so he can accomplish his dream.
“At Kedma, the teachers care about you,” says Edelstein. “They know your name.”
Like Edelstein, the majority of Kedma’s students are Moroccan, Ethiopian, Kurdish or other North African and Sephardi Jews. Some of them immigrated with their parents, and others were born in Israel.
The majority of Kedma’s students had to leave their previous schools because of disciplinary problems or low test scores. But most agree that they weren’t socially accepted by the Ashkenazim.
According to the Kedma students, Ashkenazi classmates saw them as outsiders, while instructors labeled them troublemakers.
“In our neighborhood we have very good schools, but when the students finish elementary school, all of them get kicked out for any reason,” says Yardena Hamu, a veteran teacher and mentor at Kedma who grew up in the Katamonim. “Our goal is to give students in poor neighborhoods, who are the weak segment of society, an equal opportunity with the wealthy and let them choose which profession they’ll have in the future.”
Hamu, whose parents emigrated from Kurdistan, also grew up facing racial discrimination. As a child, she was denied entrance into the better elementary schools in her neighborhood. After her parents petitioned the school, Hamu was eventually accepted. She went to university, received a degree in art and decided to go back to her old neighborhood.
A single mother, Hamu recently tried to enroll her twin daughters in a “good” elementary school in the Katamonim. After the school interviewed Hamu in person, the administration claimed they didn’t have enough room for her twins.
“They don’t want students from this neighborhood because they only want to keep students from the upper class,” she says.
Hamu’s and Edelstein’s experiences reflect one of Israel’s most significant educational problems. A 2004 summary of the Task Force for the Advancement of Education reported, “Israel is one of the leading countries in the world in scholastic disparities based on socioeconomic background, nationality (Arab vs. Jews), ethnicity (Western vs.
Eastern), length of time in the country (immigrant vs. natives) and place of residence (well-off vs. poor localities).”
In 1994, Kedma was created to address this problem. The school’s administration implemented a charter-like model that used small classes to facilitate quality instruction. Then they accepted students throughout Jerusalem who were failing academically.
Now there are 160 students from seventh to 12th grade with a teacher-student ratio of one-13, compared to the one-40 ratio of regular Israeli public schools.
The school has managed to reach a 60 percent matriculation rate, a stark contrast to the Katamonim’s overall 10% before the school was founded, according to Kedma’s website.
“They send them [students] to us because they know we can succeed,” says Hamu. “Other teachers don’t do as much as we do. We work our hearts out.”
In the last two years of school, the students are required to take a Jewish studies program. They read Torah, take trips to Jewish religious sites, and study women’s roles in Judaism. The aim of the program is to integrate students who may come from more non-traditional and secular households.
But Kedma’s emphasis on intensive instruction is expensive. According to Kedma’s executive director Ilana Yona, the school receives a regular budget from the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality. But it’s not enough to fund the learning centers and mentors that are vital to the students’ success.
“It is important to understand that students begin to progress with a very low starting point in school and spend a lot of resources to reduce the gap between them and their peers in other schools,” Yona explains. “Also, most of them come from very poor families, sometimes broken homes, and their families are not always available to help them, so it is important to do the work of empowerment, acceptance, support and training, beyond the purely academic subjects,” she says.
Yona adds that the school doesn’t charge the regular tuition fee to the low-income parents. Additional funding has to be raised from private donors to help pay for the school’s expenses.
One private donor from France participated in setting up a scholarship fund to help Kedma graduates afford higher education. Nofar Levy, whose father emigrated from Morocco, won a full scholarship to a four-year-university program, where she plans to receive her bachelor’s in education.
Before Levy attended Kedma, she says she regularly cut classes. But once she started Kedma, her grades and her attitude improved. Now every Sunday she goes to Kedma to tutor and mentor younger students. “If it wasn’t for Kedma, I would not have gone to university,” says Levy. “It’s like family here.”