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WeWork and Tovanot B’Hinuch: Connecting our schools and communities

In Israel, there is a strong and cruel connection between background and opportunities, but schools can play a crucial role in changing this
Illustrative: Children in class. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Children in class. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

What is the role of a school in the community? Many Israeli communities are under-served and their schools need support. In Israel, there is a strong and cruel connection between background and opportunities in life. We believe that schools can play a crucial role in changing this, as social and educational anchors in the lives of students, parents and communities at large.

To fix that, you have to go beyond curriculum — reaching out to the community, business leaders, parents,government, municipalities, and to students themselves, making them part of the process — in essence turning the school from just a place where parents send kids to get “educated,” to a place that is an organic part of the community.

Our initiative, Tovanot B’Hinuch (Educational Insights), does just that, assisting principals, who are social entrepreneurs and leaders, and working to create a holistic response for the needs of students scholastically, emotionally and socially. The school becomes a strong part of the community and a source of inspiration for students, parents, and everyone else. In each school, action committees are formed, whose role is to actively support the principals in fulfilling their vision. Action committees are led by leading members of the Israeli business community who work to bring additional earmarked funding to the school, along with extra-curricular projects donated by Israeli corporations and individuals. A core element of our model is working with volunteers, from the security and defense institutions, the business sector, the academic world and more. In this way, the community gets involved in the school, turning it into a center of inspiration for everyone.

It’s admittedly a grand vision, but it is a realistic one — and that is why WeWork decided to present us with a Creator Award. How realistic? At Tel Aviv’s “Reshit” high school — one of the first schools we began working with — 93 percent of students last year took and passed the matriculation tests, guaranteeing them a ticket to university and to other opportunities . Even better, 97% of graduates now enter the IDF — another mark of “admission” to mainstream Israeli society. Before we began working with the school, both figures were below 30%, meaning that students would find themselves on the short end of the economic, social, and political sticks. Now, we have a robotics team that is the envy of the public high school system; it recently won a national contest and will represent Israel in the international robotics high school competition in Montreal this July.

The Creator Award has done a lot of good for us — and, by extension, the communities we serve. For one thing, the Award has helped us enhance and expand our programs. In the current 2017-18 school year, Tovanot is serving 13,000 students in 28 public schools in 14 communities in the urban and geographical periphery of Israel, including secular, national religious and Israeli Arab elementary and secondary schools. We now have 1,500 active volunteers — and we plan to expand, bringing our methods to other schools in the next school year. The Award will help us provide unique mapping and measurement tools to support school principals, helping them to turn their schools into inspirational educational centers and anchors in the lives of their students and surrounding community. The effort provides schools, led by entrepreneurial principals, with multi-year seed funding for academic, cultural and social enrichment.

Our proven ability to scale up was key to WeWork’s decision to include us in its Scale Award category, and to spread the word on our unique municipal model — the first of its kind in Israel — that was initiated in Bat Yam, and is expanding there as well. We will be expanding to other municipal models in Israel, starting the upcoming school year.

The work of Tovanot B’Hinuch fits right in with the WeWork values that inspire an innovative approach to successful community based public education, involving entrepreneurial leadership and volunteers to create a community with a shared vision and mission. Indeed, a number of high profile Israelis who learned about the award have joined the Tovanot community of volunteers. The energy from participating on stage in the Tel Aviv Creator Award event gave a real boost to our work and excited our supporters and volunteers.

Speaking of volunteers, we truly appreciate the difference they are making — and the help of the volunteers on the WeWork Ibn Gabirol technology team. WeWork volunteers are making a difference in an exciting reading literacy program with students from the Ben Gurion elementary school in Bat Yam. They are not only working together with students on reading skills, they are also serving as role models for the students and boosting their self- confidence.

Tovanot B’Hinuch aspires to expand and reach a critical mass of turnaround schools, in Israel and beyond, that will be an inspiration to all.

RSVP for WeWork’s Creator Jerusalem event on June 20: https://we.co/jerusalem-creator

Karen Tal is the founder and director of Tovanot B’Hinuch (Educational Insights). Until September 2011, Tal served as principal of the Bialik-Rogozin Campus in southern Tel Aviv. She is a graduate of the Mandel Institute for educational leadership, and holds an MA in Public and Educational Policy from the Hebrew University.

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In this unique partnership between the Times of Israel and WeWork’s Creator Awards, we invite you to meet innovators from across the country and learn more about their stories and how they are making the world a better place.

About the Author
Karen Tal is the founder and director of Tovanot B’Hinuch (Educational Insights). Until September 2011, she served as principal of the Bialik-Rogozin Campus in southern Tel Aviv. Tal is a graduate of the Mandel Institute for educational leadership, and holds an MA in Public and Educational Policy from the Hebrew University.
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