A young man from Danbury is among seventy-five North American college graduates who have been accepted to Israel Teaching Fellows, a pilot 10-month service program to teach English in underprivileged communities in Israel during the 2011-12 school year.
Launched by Masa Israel Journey and Israel’s Ministry of Education, the fellowship seeks to address Israel’s educational inequity and widespread underperformance of youth in low-income communities.
“With the rise of young adults’ interest in tikkun olam programs overseas, Masa Israel is creating immersive service opportunities that allow young adults to impact Israel in a sustainable way while having a genuine Israel and Jewish experience,” says Avi Rubel, Masa Israel’s North American director.
During this pilot year, the fellows, 66 percent of whom are Birthright alumni, will teach in Rehovot, Ramle-Lod, Rishon LeZion, Netanya, and Petach Tikva. Organizers plan to expand the program to other areas of Israel in future years.
Following an initial training period, the fellows will live in small groups in Israeli communities and teach for 20 to 25 hours a week. The fellows will also choose and design secondary volunteer projects in their communities. After an initial month of training, the fellows live in groups of 20 to 25, and are placed in schools as aides to teachers of English.
One Connecticut resident is among the first group of fellows. A Danbury resident, Ben Panzarino graduated this year from Western Connecticut State University, and learned about Masa programs after returning from a Birthright trip to Israel in January.
“The country just captivates me,” he says of the experience. “Everything from the people to the sites to the weather all made me feel like this is a place that I definitely want to be. When the opportunity came up to teach English in Israel, I jumped on it immediately.”
While at university, Panzarino worked in the Danbury Public School before- and after-school programs, both with students and fellow staff.
Last summer, he traveled with a group of other young adults to Ecuador, visiting schools throughout the country to play games and facilitate activities with students.
“The non-verbal interpersonal communication we used really taught me a lot about how I can teach the kids in Israel,” Panzarino says. “I’ve always enjoyed traveling and learning about other cultures, so one of my goals in the Masa program is to learn a lot about Israeli culture. I also want to learn as much Hebrew as possible. My overall goals within the program are to meet great people, make a change in these students’ lives, and come back a more educated and well-rounded person. I think one learns best by experiencing something with full immersion, not in a classroom setting.”
Panzarino just relocated to Netanya, where he will also teach. “Being here has truly opened my eyes to the great things in Israel that the mainstream media does not cover,” he says. “It’s unfortunate that all we hear about back home is the violence, not all of the technologies, software, agricultural advances, and lessons that this Israel has to offer.”
With programs like Israel Teaching Fellows, Masa Israel, a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency For Israel, is making Israel a global hub for service programs. Out of 180 five- to 12-month volunteering, career development, and academic programs, Masa Israel has 16 post-college programs exclusively dedicated to service and anticipates 11,000 participants in 2011-12. For more information: www.masaisrael.org
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