For many kids, doing homework at home seems to be the most natural thing – something they wouldn’t think about twice. Kids might argue with their parents about doing homework but also know that when needed, their parents or siblings will be able to lend a hand. But what happens if you are the child of immigrants who don’t speak the local language well? What if they never learned in a school themselves since they grew up in a rural area with little access to education? Such is the situation in many homes of Ethiopian families in Israel today.
Well intentioned schools, community centers and other organizations have responded to this by setting up after school and academic assistance programs aiming to help these kids. Undoubtedly, some of this help is effective, but taking kids out of homes to do homework raises some important issues. What happens to the family unit when children are out of the house for many hours of the day? What happens to the authority and self-esteem of the parents when they are not able to help their children?
Seeing these tensions, Friends by Nature (Yahel’s partner in Gedera) came up with a simple yet powerful solution: bringing homework back to the home. In a program operated largely by volunteers, teachers enter the homes to tutor in different subjects. Every session includes a built in period spent with the family and the work is as much about creating a positive learning environment and empowering parents as it is about improving grades in a certain subject.
Since September, Yahel Social Change Program participants joined the staff of teachers as part of the Homework at Home program. At first, Yahel participants worried about entering homes, daunted by the prospect of communicating across cultures and with little Hebrew. But after more than three months of teaching, it is the highlight for many of them. Drew Fidler says: “I have really come to love the kids I tutor. It feels as though I am not just tutoring English but have really become a part of the family. The program has allowed for a very personal way of getting to know the community. It is wonderful to see how excited one of the girls gets whenever her mother comes over and looks at what she does and shows her pride”.
The involvement of the Yahelnikim in this program has been of great value to Friends by Nature. Ziva Rouven, the coordinator of the Homework at Home program in Gedera mentioned how well the Yahel volunteers have integrated into the program despite their initial worries. “The children are having a wonderful time and their attendance, motivation and achievements are very high. The Yahelnikim are motivated, creative and a pleasure to work with and it is wonderful to see the processes they are part of starting in the families.” A few weeks ago, Homework at Home families, teachers and staff went on a joint day trip. They spent a wonderful day together herding goats, making food and enjoying each others company.