Making school fun... Even on Saturdays!

DSC_7-11-2009 (42) When they approached us this summer, Tomorrow's Youth Organization was glad to respond to UNRWA's request that we get involved in their Education Rehabilitation Plan. Concerned about falling rates of achievement in UNRWA schools, particularly in Arabic and Math, UNRWA's central office in Jerusalem led the creation of a multi-year strategy to better support students who are struggling to pass standardized tests, beginning in Grade 3. Teacher training, de-centralization, and increased attention and care for children's mental health are three focus areas of the strategy. The fourth is community engagement: leveraging the know-how and relationships of organizations in the schools' communities to enrich the services that UNRWA is able to offer at-risk students.

In the context of this fourth pillar of the Education Recovery Plan, the TYO team spends each Saturday at a different UNRWA school. Two schools initially asked TYO to participate in their Saturday sessions, but word quickly spread, and we now divide Saturdays between three schools, with several others lining up for our services. As the program becomes more established, we hope to identify the resources needed to replicate the model of TYO's involvement at other UNRWA schools in Nablus and elsewhere in the northern district.

For now, a dozen TYO-trained staff and volunteers from An Najah University each lead a group of students, from 6 to 16 years old, in games and activities designed to build teamwork, creativity, problem solving, and to provide an outlet for energy after spending an extra morning in tutoring sessions led by UNRWA teachers and volunteers.

Imad - TYO's volunteer coordinator - along with Ahmad Hanani (health teacher) and Haitham Okeh (sports teacher) support TYO volunteers to plan activities each week, depending on what the students responded well to (or not!) during the previous session. He is now helping volunteers to work with older students on improving their school community: identifying first, the problems they observe, then possible solutions, and finally a feasible plan to address the most urgent problems that are within their control.

The Head Teachers of the schools where we're working have expressed in no uncertain terms their gratitude for TYO's contribution to their new Saturday sessions. Students are more likely to attend the optional programs to have a chance to participate in TYO-led activities; they focus better in the classroom in advance of the release provided by physical and social activities led by TYO; and the divides between cliques of students are fading as a result of their blending between different TYO groups (Imad wisely insisted on dividing them, rather than students choosing their own groups).

Congratulations to UNRWA on a great initiative to meet an important need of Palestinian children! Most importantly, credit is due for recognizing the value of engaging other community actors to support these at-risk students holistically, rather than trying to address their academic development with a monolithic approach. We look forward to continuing and expanding the cooperation between TYO and UNRWA in the service of Palestinian children's academic and personal development!

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