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A Boarding School For At-Risk Youth Under Coronavirus - How Does It Look?

Updated: Jan 7, 2021

Yelena Adelman, Educator

The world is going through a very challenging time right now. The Coronavirus has caught us all off guard, completely unprepared. Most of us are stuck at home away from ones we love. Many of us are experiencing fear and loneliness, without any sort of guarantee of how long this will last or exactly how bad it will get. It is indeed a scary time for all of us. During this difficult time, I wanted to share a unique story taking place on Kibbutz Eshbal in the Galilee region in northern Israel.

Kibbutz Eshbal over the past 20 years has been home to a boarding school called Hevrat Hanoar. This boarding school is open to any youth from 10-12th grade, many of whom are at-risk youth who need distance from their family or neighborhood. The teenagers at the boarding school attend a high school in Carmiel that is based on dialogical pedagogy and project-based learning. I have been an educator at this school for the past 5 years.

So what is happening here during the Coronavirus days? Two weeks ago exactly, the government announced that all schools will be closed. The boarding school received permission to stay open as long as the staff of the boarding school and high school could provide a safe framework for the teenagers. After quick deliberation, we said yes. The teenagers were given a choice to stay at the boarding school or to go back to their families. 17 out of the 30 teenagers chose to stay on Eshbal. One of the students said, "Eshbal is my home. I would rather be here than all alone." Another teenager said, "We are lucky. We get to spend this period together with our friends. We have things to do and a meaningful way to pass the time." Yet another teenager said, "My grandma and grandpa are in the hospital. What will I do if I have to go home? I will be stuck in the apartment completely alone. I want to stay here as long as I can."

While many of their friends have spent the last two weeks waking up at 4 pm and relating to th

is period as "summer vacation," the Boarding School students have demanded to stick to a regular schedule. They get up at 8 am and by 9 am, I and a few other educators from the school meet them in the classroom for some sort of 'daily opening'. After this, they split up to take care of the dogs and horses that we have on Eshbal that are part of the high school curriculum. After this, some students stay in the horse stables and continue working there, while others learn English, math, literature, and grammar. In addition, one of the big hits of this past week was a lesson I ran "TV with a critical eye" where we watch a TV show and talk about our society through evaluating the episode. Also, some students have decided to take on independent lear

ning such as one student who is learning Japanese.

In the afternoon, the counselors of the boarding school are with the teenagers. They continue to run special interest groups such as basketball, music and art. The teenagers are also held to very high standards in terms of house chores. They are required to clean their whole house twice a day to keep to the requirements of keeping safe from the virus.

Despite all that they are demanded to do, the teenagers are happy that they are together and not in isolation at home. A few of them have even asked to stay at the boarding school over Passover vacation and not go home at all. When many of us imagine boarding school for at risk-youth, we think kids who are forced to be in some sort of "last chance" framework. And this is also how some of these teenagers got to the boarding school originally. However,

the days of Coronavirus are teaching me and my fellow staff that there is a lot of power in what we do, that when push comes to shove, the kids feel like Eshbal and the boarding school is truly their home, that they are like family to one another and that they are willing to fight to stay here together.

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