Afterschool enrichment clubs teaching everything from art to archery are a common way for Israeli kids to broaden their horizons. But many parents cannot afford to send their children to clubs, and transportation poses a problem for working parents.
In 1990, a better alternative was introduced – Karev, a joint public-private venture that is now the largest extracurricular program in Israel and one of a few that operates in school, during school hours.
Karev enrichment is offered three times a week for one hour per session, reaching more than 260,000 elementary school students and preschoolers in 129 cities and towns. For the littlest ones, Karev has the added benefit of extending the school day in municipal preschools -- another boon for working parents.
“The great thing about Karev is that it is universal,” says Ouri Liberti, Karev district coordinator for Beersheva, Ofakim and the B’nai Shimon region in the south, where many children simply do not have other viable alternatives for enrichment.
“We believe that each student deserves to get enrichment, not only those with the money who choose to do it. When we go into a school, all the children get it as part of their school day, and they get whichever programs their school chose for them.”
Science, technology, art, music, drama, dance, robotics, social activism, debate, architecture and even preparation for bar-bat mitzvah are among the many options open to every school.
One father from Karnei Shomron says Karev fills an important role in informal education by giving kids a taste of activities they might not otherwise have a chance to try. David Schwartz’s 16- and 18-year-old daughters were exposed to violin through Karev in first grade, and have been playing ever since.
“From second grade on, we paid privately for lessons, but I don’t know if they would have gotten started without getting a taste through Karev,” says Schwartz. “The program lets them experience what is out there, and if they are interested, they can continue.” Other Karen programs his children have enjoyed include cooking, juggling and comics.
“Each of my kids picked up something else,” he says. “One son is very much into juggling, and it all came from Karev.”
Every school chooses what it wants
The democratic and flexible system allows a committee representing each school’s educational staff and parents to choose which subjects will be provided each year for each grade.
“They can decide that students in first and second grade get agriculture, origami and aviation, while third- and fourth-graders get bird-watching, drama and electronics,” says Liberti.
In this Karev class, kids learn about birds of Israel
In addition, Karev is adapted to the ethnic and religious makeup of each participating school.
“The program provides educational opportunities to various sectors in Israeli society, from the Golan [in the north] to Eilat [in the south], including students in the periphery, children at risk, children with special needs, immigrant children and children in Arab, Bedouin and ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities,” says Liberti.
“Our pedagogical division works to make our programs suitable to specific populations. In the case of Arab kids, the program has to be translated and adjusted to the culture.”
To further empower the individual communities, teachers for the different classes are hired from the local population whenever possible.
Improving the school atmosphere
Karev was initiated by Canadian philanthropists Charles and Andrea Bronfman in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. Two years later, the Ministry of Education began providing the budget to expand the program.
Today, the bulk of the costs are shared by the ministry and the municipalities. Parents pay a symbolic, sliding-scale fee – about NIS 200 per year for three classes, which is less than they’d pay in the private sector for one month of one afterschool club.
“Initially, Karev was aimed at needy populations, but then many wealthier municipalities liked this program and were willing to pay more to bring it in,” Liberti adds.
Until four years ago, Karev was also offered in some middle schools and, though budgetary restraints halted that part of the program, Liberti is optimistic that it will return. “Our vision is that all students in Israel will be included in this program, because it’s worthwhile.”
He explains that Karev was a reaction to education budget cuts in the late 1980s that largely took the arts and other forms of enrichment out of the school curriculum. The program put these options back in the day, returned many fulltime teachers to the workforce, and added a whole new dimension.
“Even if a school does have art, Karev will offer something with a different focus. The regular art teacher may teach art history and introduce the various schools of art, but our lessons are more hands-on, so they can complement what is already provided.”
Several internal and independent studies have demonstrated that pupils involved in Karev do better in school overall, and that the school climate is improved by the presence of the program and its teachers and counselors.
“They bring a special atmosphere into the school,” says Liberti. “If there is math after a Karev dance class, the kids enter math class differently than usual. The Karev classes open their minds and allow them expend some creative energy during the school day.”