Israel’s residential education system differs from what currently exists in the U.S. Israel’s network of approximately fifty (50) children and youth villages could serve as a model for the U.S. Residential education is far more widely available in Israel than in any other country in the world, and is less expensive than in the U.S.
Israel does not have an elite tuition boarding school system. It does have a system made up of child-centered communities which are not necessarily for “misfits” nor for those from financially advantaged backgrounds, but for “normal” children and youth who have troubles in their home environments.
“Residential education” is the term used in Israel, whereas “residential treatment” or “residential care” are the terms most often used in the U.S. The former represents a more positive view of students, and emphasizes strengths and the future, whereas the latter indicates a more problem-to-be-solved approach.
The system focuses on education and/or vocational training, with the caregiving, therapeutic treatment, and behavior modification a significant but subtle goal. It is group-centered and heterogeneous in population. “There is an underlying conviction that all young people can succeed, and it is the adult community’s responsibility to see that they do,” according to Zvi Levy, Director of WIZO-Hadassim Children and Youth Village in Israel.
The Israeli residential education programs emphasize cultural pluralism, transfer of values, improved identity, a lifelong commitment to the child, and maintaining family connections. Created originally to house children fleeing the Holocaust, the programs were based on a hybrid of the Kibbutz (communal village) and traditional European boarding schools. Many of Israel’s top politicians, artists, military heroes, and business executives are graduates of these schools.
The programs have been adapted over the past seventy-five years to meet the changing demographics and needs of Israel’s citizens. The current mix of students is approximately half disadvantaged Israelis born in Israel and half new immigrants, primarily from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. The settings in Israel function as communities.
The programs are group-centered while valuing each community member, committed to helping students graduate, and unstigmatized. Students and staff contribute what they can, and take what they need that is available. In the Israeli system today, the various cultures from which residents arrive are celebrated, studied, and used to enrich the environment of the majority rather than be replaced by it. “You must get thoroughly into the children’s past, culture, and language. He doesn’t come from a void!” explains Dr. Chaim Peri, Director of Yemin Orde Children’s Village. See also these articles on Israel’s residential education:
- Shalom for At-Risk Youth by Heidi Goldsmith in Policy Review
- All Planning, No Programming by Karen Pittman in Youth Today
- Saving Children, Themselves by Mary McGrory in the Washington Post