You know when you have a great idea, and you just want to shout it out to the world? An official term for this would be ‘‘scaling up’. In the nonprofit sector, there is always interest in spreading these great ideas – replicating effective models and adapting them to different settings.
If you want to see a notable example that sparked efforts to scale up, take a few minutes and watch the trailer for the 2011 Oscar-winning film ‘Strangers No More’. Even better, watch the full documentary. It tells the story of the Bialik-Rogozin School. Located in a tough neighborhood of South Tel Aviv, Bialik-Rogozin is a public school with Jewish, Muslim and Christian children from over 48 countries. These students, many of whose parents are foreign workers, asylum seekers and refugees, are brought together by educators and volunteers to be a part of a welcoming, supportive community, symbolized by the fact that the school campus is open to them and their parents from morning to night.
By the time of the film, Bialik-Rogozin and its principal, Karen Tal, had engineered a remarkable turnaround, going from one of the lowest performing schools in 2005 to one of the highest in the country, a ranking that continues to this day. Within five years, the school went from being in danger of shutting down to winning the National Education Prize.
And so it came as no surprise that Bialik-Rogozin’s successful model of community engagement was ‘scaled up’ -resulting in the creation of the nonprofit Tovanot B’Hinuch (Hebrew for ‘Educational Insights’) in 2011. Now the director of Tovanot B’Hinuch, Karen Tal explains that Bialik-Rogozin’s success was a story of partnership and community building – based on the collective efforts of parents, teachers, students, the Tel Aviv Municipality, the Ministry of Education, and over two hundred volunteers led by Dr. Yossi Vardi and Rina Zamir.
So what are the guiding principles of the educational model that was developed at Bialik-Rogozin and that now serve as the basis for the work of Tovanot B’Hinuch? For starters, ‘education’ is defined in the broadest possible terms. Each child’s overall wellbeing is carefully considered together with his/her academic potential. This could mean everything from giving children more hugs in the morning to fitting them for a pair of needed eye glasses to providing extra support on homework afterschool. The message to the children, as Karen describes it, is always ‘you’re not alone. We’ll be with you.’
And this is a very welcome message for the students at Bialik-Rogozin – each of whom has a story to tell and many needs to address. Large numbers of the student body have suffered trauma from displacement as refugees and the aftermath of civil war in places such as Eritrea and Darfur. Many are living in impoverished neighborhoods with hard-working parents who are struggling to make a living, and often live in fear of deportation.
At Bialik-Rogozin years ago, the leadership created an ambitious wish list to address the varied needs of its student body. While the responses of the school might not seem revolutionary now, they were more than a decade ago, especially in a public school serving children coming from the margins of Israeli society. Just a few examples:
Children need to develop productive study habits, including youth who were starting school for the first time at a relatively late age? Start a mentoring program with volunteers to provide support with homework and act as role models.
Children are coming to school without packed lunches from home and are not receiving the needed nutritional balance? Offer hot meals during the day.
Parents of the children need support on subjects like the Hebrew language and computer skills? Keep the school open in the evenings for parent classes offered by volunteers.
Children are often left idle afterschool and unable to participate in enrichment programs due to costs and lack of access? Have an extended school day, and open an arts and sports center to operate in the afternoons.
The emotional needs of the children are not being met, leaving kids to suffer alone and often be distracted at school? Provide a range of therapies.
Bialik-Rogozin was able to check off so many items on the wish list as a result of another critical element of the model of intervention, which is also a guiding principle at Tovanot B’Hinuch. Every school principal is matched with a member of the Israeli business or high-tech community. Together they create a strategy for change and a community of support, working to bring more volunteers and resources to the school.
The school community becomes a home base for the students, who are buoyed by the professional educators and a network of volunteers, who include everyone from local senior citizens, youth carrying out national service, soldiers, and neighboring high-tech employees.
In the past seven years, Tovanot B’Hinuch has ‘scaled up’ its model, expanding to over thirty-four public schools – Jewish and Arab, secular and orthodox. Each school has received a ‘starter kit’, and then has applied the principles of the educational model to its own context.
And the model seems to be remarkably adaptable. All of the schools involved with Tovanot B’Hinuch, originally flagged for their low- achievement, now have higher matriculation exam rates than the national average. In light of this success, several local municipalities are implementing Tovanot B’Hinuch’s model on a citywide basis, including Bat Yam, Migdal HaEmek and the Arab city of Kfar Kassem.
The idea of creating a supportive educational community remains central. It is the magic needed to inspire kids to strive for excellence. As Karen Tal explains, “we are able to prove that children’s socioeconomic status does not have to be the deciding factor when it comes to their future… it does not have to limit how big their dreams can be.”
And that is a great idea worth shouting out to the world.