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How we Booted up Workcamp

This task tests eye-hand co-ordination, focusing, standing and working vertically

Do you recall reading my story in the previous ESRAmagazine issue #191 about my own development from being a magazine distributor to becoming an ESRA consultant for Students Build a Community? Well, much has happened since. Read on!

It came to our attention in late spring 2017, that children about to complete kindergarten and move on to first grade were actually not equipped and were lacking many of the basic skills needed for their new "academic career" which would begin September 1, 2017.

What does that actually mean?

Well, surely you recall running around with your children and grandchildren during the summer to purchase book bags (with the "in" and popular logo, which must be orthopedic, as well as a trolley), enjoying choosing notebooks, stickers, book covers, pencils, a pencil box and the rest.

Your child and grandchild most likely had completed work books and other preparation for first grade. He/she may even be reading, recognizing letters and numbers already. 

Time for a bite to eat

Talking about entering first grade certainly was a central topic of conversation at home and your new first grader received plenty of attention, support and encouragement. In short, he or she was ready for this huge leap; with sufficient supplies as well as psychological readiness.

Not all children in Israel possess this readiness. Not all children in Israel have been able to purchase all of the required school supplies. Not all children in Israel enter the classroom with the same cognitive and emotional readiness described above.

As an early childhood educator and supervisor for over forty years, I simply could not believe my ears that our kindergarten graduates from Heftzibah, Netanya, neither had psychological nor cognitive readiness for school, and their ability to purchase basic school supplies was also in doubt.

I began sharing these thoughts with my colleagues and brainstormed what could be done, even at this late date. Many responded that it was simply too late to do much; we should try to do something for next year and start in March. I refused to throw in the towel and accept that. After considerable thought, I decided it was better to try and work with these kids intensively for a short time in the summer and that anything would be better than nothing.

Over the coming weeks, I succeeded in drafting many friends and colleagues to join me in this endeavor, each one with exceptional professional background.

The volunteers included occupational therapists, teachers from special education and movement, kindergarten teachers, community workers, and a student from Students Build a Community and more. We had our first staff meeting in July and I couldn't believe that we had twelve volunteers! We planned the curriculum and discussed the desired psychological environment and physical environment.

From the very start, we received complete support from the director of the community center in Heftzibah, Avi Talala, and his loyal staff – secretarial and janitorial - as well as from ESRA, specifically Nina Zuck and Tsafra Leshem.

Gradually, the plan came together. Everyone knew what she was to do. A daily work and volunteer schedule was built. A graphic designer volunteered to create a logo for our workshop, which we called, "Olim l'Alef" or "Going Up to First Grade".

Healthy snack orders were arranged with the local grocery.

The curriculum was based on a ten-day workshop, five days a week from 9-12 daily (except Friday).

The secretarial staff was responsible for registering the children. The eve of opening day, we had twenty-four registered campers!

Playing with dough and clay strengthens fingers and much more

August 2. Opening day. The excitement was in the air for all of us. The children trickled in. Some insisted on having a sibling or a parent or grandparent remain with them. Some separated immediately. All so normal and happy. Every child received a t-shirt with our logo so it became official. It was happening!

The ten days unfolded into a romance and a true love story, a story with tears and laughter and success. These children became a part of our lives. And we became a part of theirs.

We were busy every day. Not so much with traditional work sheets or traditional activities. More with activities to strengthen shoulders, posture and back, fine motor skills, visual recognition, social skills, vocabulary, sequential ordering, early math skills, letter recognition and much more.

Highlights included our jamboree activities, setting up the class to like first grade to practice, a meeting with Yaacov (the neighborhood policeman), meeting with Avi, the director of the community center, as well as other guests from the municipality who had heard about the wonders of this workshop. We made popcorn. Corn on the cob. Cookies. Jello with fruit and fruit salad. The children helped make healthy snacks. We even hosted a "parent's discussion night" presentation by a new volunteer.

We had the pleasure of meeting parents and siblings each day at the end of the workshop. Some families reported that the kids were disappointed on Fridays, since there was no workshop.

On the last day, Orly, our head teacher, had arranged for a huge contribution of book bags, pencil boxes, pencils and crayons, markers, a school shirt and more for each child.

On August 16, the ten-day workshop came to a close and everyone dispersed with hugs. We all felt great. These kids were ready! We did it……. HOWEVER,

We understood and realized that this was hardly sufficient. We couldn't just pack up and leave. But that is another whole story for the next issue.

Judi Argaman, an early childhood consultant, volunteers for ESRA in the Students Build a Community Projects. 

Children from Ethiopia and Russia having fun in 1994
Editor Merle Guttmann writes: "In 1994 –1996 the ESRA Community Fund initiated and ran a similar project for preschoolers, aged 5-6, from Ethiopia and Russia, who were new immigrants living on the caravan site of Hatzrot Yasaf, near Acco. "The project started with a summer camp and continued for two years as a daily learning center, with a hot meal, preparing the children for the first grade". 


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