A Nursery School, A Toilet, and Two Parent Strikes

We’ve decided to spend the year in Jerusalem to raise our children in the land of Israel. We’re living our version of the American Modern Orthodox dream. The city has grown by leaps and bounds since the last time we were here. The city’s infrastructure has improved, culture and recreation are extraordinary, traffic has decreased significantly, and the city is truly beautiful in many, many ways.  However, educational planning is not among them.

Our children are 3, 7, and 9.  Upon arrival, we confirmed that our older children would attend a local elementary school. We knew that this particular school was in the midst of an ongoing court battle to get more classrooms for their ever expanding student population. Nevertheless, we decided to enroll our children there as it’s within walking distance and many children in our neighborhood will attend this particular school.

It was not quite so easy to get our youngest into a nursery school. Last year, the city decided to change the structure of nursery schools – allowing free education for 3 year olds, rather than requiring parents to pay for childcare. As a result of the new financial structure, a significant increase in enrollment in public education hit the city’s Early Childhood Registrar, and it seems that they were not quite prepared for this wave.  When we attempted to enroll our son in the nursery school next door to our building, we were told that it was already full. No worries, we’ll take any nursery school within walking distance where they don’t allow broken glass within the children’s reach. Ahhh, great, then you can go to the brand new nursery school on the street across from where you live, they told us.  Please join us for a parent-teacher orientation meeting next week.

I enter the parent-teacher orientation and find that, though the teacher has been hired and the location has been found, the renovations on said location have not exactly started yet.  And they only have very basic school supplies, so they’d like the parents to donate toys, educational materials, and school supplies – that is, only if we want them to be there for our kids. And there’s no appropriate outdoor area. And they haven’t hired an assistant teacher.  And there are 40 steps to get into the nursery school and they’re not planning to build a ramp for strollers. Huh, I think to myself, perhaps this isn’t the parent-teacher orientation that I had imagined.

Fast forward to tonight, three nights before the start of the school year. We have received an email from the municipality informing us that our three year old children will start the school year in another location, not within walking distance, because they haven’t quite finished the renovations. When the parents asked how long we will be in that location, they replied by informing us that there are only 8 days of school in September, so that month is really a wash, isn’t it? They’ll do their best and hopefully that will work.  *Note to self: This one goes down in history as one of the top ten ways to set Jerusalem Alpha Moms into action.*

After fifty emails, the plan is hatched. It seems that the parents will go on strike the first day of nursery school. That will attract plenty of media attention and then the city will have to respond.  Am I allowed to wonder whether this could have been prevented by just checking to see how many kids live in the area, make some smart demographic projections, and make sure that enough nursery schools were built in the neighborhood before the start of the school? Or is the educational consultant in me just on overdrive? My father, a Colonel in the United States Marine Corps, always taught me, “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Pretty Poor Performance.”  It’s catchy in English, but funnily enough there doesn’t seem to be a Hebrew translation.  Really, I just wanted to send my kid to nursery school without having to get into a taxi every day.

The good news is that the older children’s elementary school will start as planned on Tuesday morning. Or so I thought. While sitting on a bench watching my children play and meeting people who live in our building this afternoon, I learned that the parents of the elementary school are also planning to go on strike Tuesday morning. Why you ask? Ahhh, it’s because they won the court case which awarded them enough classrooms for the students in the school. But evidently, no one thought about the toilets. So, the first graders will learn in an area of the school without access to toilets.  And they’re not allowed to share the toilets with the other school which was forced to share the building. Because … well, you know what happens when children start sharing the same toilets.

And so, though I thought that my children would be starting school on Tuesday, the first day of the school year here in Jerusalem, it seems that all of the parents in BOTH of my children’s schools will be on strike. To get media attention. So that their children can both have a building – and pee in it, too.

Anyone have a babysitter available for Tuesday? I’m supposed to go to work.

About the Author
Debra Shaffer Seeman is an Educational Consultant based in Jerusalem. She is an alumna of Harvard Graduate School of Education and Mandel Jerusalem Fellows. For help with complicated issues related to the field of Education, contact her at debseeman@post.harvard.edu