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First Steps - Bigger and Better

ESRA's unique program for Heftzibah kindergartners which is making a difference 

Here we are with our seventh group of Heftzibah kindergartners.

We have been part of the kindergarten for several years. We work with the kids three hours a week in order to teach them practical life skills, as well as helping them prepare for school and life.

Our objectives of the program still include: strengthening language, balance, coordination, directionality, navigation skills, graphic motor skills, how to hold a pencil, number concepts, understanding the sound of each letter and much much much more.

All of this is done through games and play. All of our equipment, to remind you, is made and created by our Director, Orly. She has been with us since the beginning (2017). I am the ESRA volunteer and coordinator of the program and am a specialist in early childhood education and development. Our third staff member, this year, is a handpicked student – Lea – who is a part of the Students Build a Community project in Heftzibah. She lives near the kindergarten and strolls over every Wednesday morning to work with us.

So why am I reporting again about this project? Is it just more of the same year after year? No. Not so. There are huge differences this year. Only our dedication and enthusiasm are unchanging.

This year, we are working in a building with two kindergartens and we have full cooperation with both of the teachers. Not only do they cooperate with us; they continue our work after we are gone for the rest of the week. We leave some of our equipment for them to use. We have accumulated scores of very creative and helpful games – all homemade and from recycled items.

For the first few years we dealt solely with children from the Ethiopian community. This year the kindergarten includes many other children from the surrounding lower economic area as well.This is known as "integration". It is also true that these new children need us as much as, if not more than, the Ethiopian population.

We work with the blessing of the Netanya Education Department's Supervisor, who would like us to work in more kindergartens in these areas.

We are still working on getting to know all of the children. We will shortly become familiar with all of them, knowing each child's strong points and weak points. We truly are into fine-tuning and are able to focus with a more targeted plan for the future for each child, as we get to know him/her.

In previous years, we started after Hanukkah and worked through June or July. This year, thanks to Orly's dedication and generosity, we began on November 2 – which is six weeks earlier than in the past. These six weeks gave us an enormous headstart.

On the personal level, I must say how heartwarming it is when we arrive on Wednesday mornings and all the children stampede towards us to give us a warm hug and a morning welcome. This week there was one child who had to leave early in order to attend a family brit. She begged her mother to let her stay in kindergarten and be with us instead of going to the event. This says a lot.

We are also seeing younger siblings of children who were with us in the program in previous years and whose parents insisted they attend the kindergarten where we are working.

Many of our kindergarten graduates are now participating as school aged children with Students Build a Community. To meet up again after four years is thrilling.

I wish we could offer our program to every kindergarten in Israel but that is doubtful. So Orly and Lea and I will stay in the kindergarten, while making a huge difference in the lives of these children and their families.

We will quietly continue to make a difference.


Judi Argaman is the Volunteer Coordinator of First Steps 

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Monday, 22 July 2024

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