The latest cohort of 15 participants in the Trailblazers Course for emerging leaders in education gathered to celebrate the completion of their intensive year-long training program.

The course is designed to bring together educators from around Israel who are working with youth at risk in our partnering educational communities. The bi-monthly Trailblazers Course focuses on educational issues, Village Way tools, and leadership skills that can be implemented in day-to-day work.

Additionally,  participants gain valuable insight from learning together with a diverse group – educators in schools, youth villages, and mechina gap-year programs, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, new immigrants and veteran Israelis. The course is run by the Village Way Educational Institute, in conjunction with the Tel Aviv University’s Continuing Education Unit.

The Trailblazers program was created in memory of Joseph J. Gwirtsman z”l, father of Charlie Gwirtsman,  Chair Emeritus, Friends of Yemin Orde.

What Are These Children Leaving With?

The topic of the conference was “What are these children leaving with?”  which focused on a discussion of the issues surrounding “transparent” students, particularly those who complete their time in high school without a bagrut (matriculation) certificate.

“We considered bringing in a key-note speaker for this event to provide an expert lecture,” said Maskit Laufer, one of the graduating Trailblazers who works at Yemin Orde Youth Village. “But we realized that we are all experts in certain areas of education, that we all have something to share, and this is so much of what the Trailblazer’s Course was about.”

Educators spoke about their own individual educational approaches, their personal experiences, the tools that can be provided beyond academic skills, and the importance of personal connection with the children. Many of these themes echoed central tenets of the Village Way methodology.

  • Miriam Tzegia of Branco-Weiss Tachkimoni High School spoke about her own experience in establishing connections to students through personal conversations focusing on dialogue, and the importance of connecting to students’ parents.
  • Alaa Hijazi of Ibn Rushd Tamra High School, spoke about the importance of practicing empathy in education, and in focusing on other factors rather than test scores.
  • Dudu Legalem of Kedma Youth Village spoke about his own aliyah journey from Ethiopia to Israel, and his journey from a child in a youth village to an educator.
  • Yafit Buskilla of Adivi Ashekelon Ort Technology High School, spoke of the success of graduates who received a quality technical education, even without matriculation. She also spoke of the persistence of some students, who educators may often characterize as “not eligible for matriculation”, but work hard to pass no matter how many times they fail.
An Incubator for Educational Innovation

On display at the conference were the course participants’ final projects: new educational programs they had developed for implementation at their own educational community, utilizing the tools and outlook of the Village Way methodology. These programs included a public speaking program, a math skills training room, and a “house of dreams” extracurricular activity center.

Such programs have a beneficial impact on the individual community, and also have the possibility of being replicated at additional Village Way communities. As such, the Trailblazers become an added branch of the Village Way “think tank,” and also serve as a kind of “incubator” for educational program innovation.

Village Way staff addresses the crowd

Moran Segev, one of the Village Way facilitators who was an instructor in the course, said, “I want to give a special thank you to the school principals and youth village directors. We know it is not easy to ‘give up’ one of your staff members for a whole day every two weeks. Your commitment showed us you are putting staff development at the top of your priorities. ”

Dotan Levy, Director of the Village Way Educational Institute, challenged educators to remember the wide range of responsibilities they have as educators. (photo, left)

“It is not enough to build a strong relationship with the child – it is important, possibly the most important thing, but it is not enough. We must help our youth work towards a goal – an academic goal, a professional goal, a personal one – that is our work. And to foster within them a feeling of belonging. The power is with you to make the difference,” Levy said.

Click here to read more about Village Way Educational Initiatives and its impact on education for youth at risk in Israel.

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