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English language improvement sessions help Israeli students meet university entrance exam standards

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For many volunteers stuck at home during the pandemic, the one hour Zoom session with an eager student is the highlight of their week (Photo: Scott Goldstein)

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In 2012, a former university classmate approached Sarah Gordon, an active member of the Jewish community in Ottawa. Having landed a job in a poor neighborhood in Israel, Gordon’s friend struggled with some very challenging students. Gordon paired two of the most difficult students in this class with English language mentors in Ottawa, holding hour-long virtual sessions weekly. Soon, Gordon’s friend mentioned this idea to another English teacher friend, who mentioned it to another friend, and it caught on. 

Within months, the informal network of volunteers and students quickly transformed into an official non-profit organization and Israel Connect was born. Many students sought mentors in this area, since Israeli university entrance exams largely target English language proficiency. Competency in English language skills is a must for these students, to eventually achieve financial self-sufficiency. Currently in its seventh year of operation, Israel Connect has over 500 North American volunteer mentors. 

When coronavirus swept the world, and schools struggled with setting up their online learning, Israel Connect realized that they needed to take the urgency of their mission to a whole new level. 

“As experts with at-home learning, we are in a position to help a lot during the pandemic, and we wanted to step up to the challenge,” Gordon said. A huge influx of students whose academic plans disappeared overnight came looking to the organization for assistance. Currently with Israeli schools experiencing uncertainty regarding reopening plans, hundreds of students are on a waiting list – despite the organization having ramped up operations almost overnight, and servicing hundreds of additional students.  

For many volunteers stuck at home during the pandemic, the one hour Zoom session with a student is the highlight of their week. The majority of volunteers hear about this mentoring opportunity via word of mouth. 

“This speaks to how much mentors enjoy doing this,” Gordon emphasized. “Friends mention it to friends who mention it to other friends.” 

Shana Greenblatt, a volunteer mentor starting her second year with Israel Connect, values the relationships with her students. “I was so pleased to see each of my students become more comfortable and more fluent in English,” Greenblatt stated, “my students look to me as an older friend. I have encouraged them to loosen up and trust that our space is a place where they can be okay with mistakes, as a means of learning, and feel comfortable to ask questions and let me know their best learning style.” 

Volunteers also feel drawn into this program due to its home friendly compatibility. “A lot of our volunteers get up early, get their cup of coffee, read the newspaper, and then turn on Zoom for their session,” Gordon stated. “It’s also fun and gratifying, with very low stress levels”  

Greenblatt added: “There is little prep time, as the lessons are provided by the program.” 

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“The investment on the part of the mentor can be as basic as reviewing the lesson in a straightforward manner, to creatively using it as a springboard for expanding discussion, working on grammar, vocabulary, comprehension, and general discussion. With one of my students last year who was at a particularly high language level, we spent some time reading a book together. It was wonderful.” 

Prospective mentors should also realize that “our students are not starting at zero,” Gordon Commented. “A lot of our students know English from computer games and TV.”  A survey found that 95 percent of teachers said their students’ grades improved significantly; 88 percent of students said their English improved; and 100 percent of teachers and students would recommend the program.

Becoming a mentor does not require a teaching degree, nor Hebrew language skills – just a desire to have an impact on someone’s life. Those wishing to participate can learn more at www.israelconnect.today  

Avigail Perry writes for various Jewish publications, including Jewish Action, Jewish Press, and Tidewater Family. She also received a first-place Simon Rockower Award for Excellence in Writing About Women. 

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

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