Wednesday, May 21, 2008

School Report

I had a parents meeting in school this week for my daughter. Finally, after nearly two years in school, she is speaking Hebrew and doing well in her lessons.

For someone who excelled in England it has taken time and patience for her to settle into a new school environment and to master enough Hebrew to fully participate.

When we came here in August 2006 we were told by several people that by Chanuakah the kids would have mastered Hebrew and be fully immersed in school. If anyone is planning to make aliyah please, please do not take any notice of people who tell you this. I can assure you that it is the exception and not the rule. Maybe those parents enrolled their kids in intensive Hebrew after school or gave them ongoing homework help. Perhaps they had better Hebrew when they arrived here. Maybe they were just very bright and able kids. Our experience however, is that it took a lot longer and was more laborious than many told us.

We did not give our kids any ‘extras’. They had ulpan at school 2-3 times a week but, to be honest, it was a little ineffective. They came out able to sing all variety of Israeli folk songs and learned to translate them, resulting in them learning words like ‘orchard’ and ‘barley’! OK I am exaggerating a little, but ulpan did not really help them to understand their lessons, teachers' instructions or equip them to do their homework.

They learned best by sitting and listening – they picked up vocabulary for various school items first; ‘pen’, ‘pencil’, ‘pencil case’, ‘sharpener’ etc. They picked up playground words; ‘stop!’, ‘come on!’, ‘pass the ball!’, ‘penalty!’, ‘you’re it!’ etc. They picked up commands; ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘eat’, ‘hurry up!’

They picked learned to conjugate verbs – a little from the ulpan but mainly from listening to others – things just started to ‘sound right’ and slot into place.

We are nearly two years down the line and my kids maybe understand 70-80% of the content of their lessons. They need support in certain subjects and encouragement in others. Sometimes they can understand what they need to do and have the capacity to complete the task, but it takes them far longer to read and digest the instructions and formulate their answer than the rest of the class. Some days they get upset or come home frustrated. Other days they come home not understanding how to do their homework, either the instructions are too hard to read or maybe they just didn’t write it down accurately when it was set.

If you are thinking about aliyah please come with no expectations for your kids. One of mine is doing well, the other is struggling. Is it the school, is it the child, is it all the changes we have added to their lives? You cannot compare your children to others. You cannot compare your situation to others. You can simply do the best by your kids.

I have seen in various forums that some feel that making aliyah with older kids is not always wise. There are always reasons not to make aliyah. My kids have had good and bad experiences in Israeli schools, but when asked if they regret coming, if they want to return to the UK; both of them would not consider it.

For all the harsh reality of making aliyah; moving house/location (for us repeatedly), moving schools, having to make new friends, having to fit in, having to learn the language, having to start all over again… the quality of life is better here. The weather is nicer, the food is fresher, the views are amazing. To walk on the land of our ancestors, to tread the same path, is an ongoing thrill. To drive past the gravestones of biblical characters on the way to the shops is awe inspiring. To look around at road sweepers, bus drivers, shop keepers and know they are all Jewish is still remarkable for me. To see people from Russia, France, Somalia, Morocco, Iraq who are now Hebrew speaking Israelis is what Zionism was all about.

Yes it’s hard. Yes it’s a challenge. Yes it takes time to get established and make a new life. But it’s worth it. If making aliyah is anywhere on your radar, don’t be put off by pessimistic articles or hearsay. However, be realistic; you won’t be able to replicate your ‘old’ life here. You really will have to start all over again. Sometimes we get hung up on all the change; change is disruptive and stressful, but it is not always a bad thing. It can shake us out of a rut and show us a different, maybe even better, route. It’s all a matter of perception.

Sharona B