Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sports and Structure turn potential delinquents into Leaders in Kiryat Malachi

In mid-July, at Dvora Attal's suggestion, I met with Elad, the head staff person at Moadon Shahar, where the Poel Tel Aviv program for 7th and 8th graders is centered.

Elad is the head staff person (1/3 time officially but works much more) for this program.   He moved to Kiryat Malachi after getting married.  Moadon Shahar is supported by Better Together and 2 other organizations. It was begun 2 years ago to reduce vandalism in town. During the school year, the program is run on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. in the AMIT school, and includes 35 boys and girls in the Herzl, Weitzman, and Kibbutz Galiot neighborhoods. Over 75% are Ethiopian-Israeli. They do meet in the summer too.

The program is built around 3 factors, each one lasting an hour:
1. Studies: For one hour the youth sit in groups of 5 together with a “teacher” who helps them with homework. If they don’t have homework, the “teacher” supplies educational activities to improve their study habits and basic skills. The teachers are volunteers, some through a special army program, some in National Service, and a few local people who want to help.

2. Planned Activities: The activities revolve around a month theme. For example, one might be the “value of giving.” The youth plan activities and carry them out. Activities have included visiting people in the hospital, helping younger children with homework, etc.

3. Sports: This is the HaPoel Tel Aviv component supported by TIPS. The youth hear lectures about qualities that make a good team player and practice them as they play together. They learn good behavior on court, problems some of the pros have had with drugs and alcohol and how that hurt their careers. They go to Tel Aviv to the Wolfson Center (where the HaPoel Tel Aviv professional soccer team plays) twice a year to see games (around Hanukkah and at the end of the year).

Elad said that the HaPoel Tel Aviv program pull the youth into the entire program in the first place. Without this incentive, many would not have come. The entire program is very structured, and Elad works with the Poel Tel Aviv coordinator to make a master plan for the year. He also meets with Moriah (and sometimes Dvora) to advise her of what is happening in his program and also to coordinate with other “clubs” in town.

I asked Elad how the 35 youth were chosen. He said that this program is, in part, a continuation of the Tzeva program (Tzi-irim Bonim Atid—youth build a future), which is also connected to Better Together is the poorer neighborhoods in town listed above.

He said that at the beginning of the year, he meets with Meirav, the coordinator fo the Tzeva program and picks out a number of kids in that program who would benefit from continuing in the Moadon Shahar. He also works with the counselors at the schools to see who are the most needy and are not already in another support program.

The program has a very strong structure with a clear list of behavior rules. The rules are reinforced with special HaPoel Tel Aviv sports cards that are colored green, yellow and red. The youth get green cards for good behavior, yellow for warnings, and red for penalties. The youth have to have a minimum of yellow cards and an accumulation of green cards in order to go on field trips, including visiting a hospital, etc.

Elad told me of one boy that started the year in an aggressive manner, hitting other kids. He got yellow cards and then red ones. At that point, he was sent out and the team met with his parents and with him at home. The boy was borderline ADD. The staff also realized that something at home must be the cause of part of his behavior, so they worked with the family and the boy. It took lots of intensive work, with small rewards for good behavior, but after two weeks, there was a big change in his behavior.

Last July, about 8 to 10 of the 35 participants were not passing some of their classes, and without improvement would not have moved up to the next grade. The club ran an intense academic “marathon” for that small group, focusing on math, English, and Hebrew, and by the end when they were retested, all passed and moved up to the next grade.

The youth that were delinquents-in-training when they entered this program have turned their behavior around. They no longer drink or smoke and commit petty crimes. They actually look for things to do in their neighborhoods, like picking up garbage and carrying or shopping for groceries for the elderly.

The participants have their own soccer team and they took part in a one-day tournament on the home court of HaPoel Tel Aviv on March 26 against other groups supported by the same program of HaPoel Tel Aviv. The boys were very proud that they took 3rd place nationally. The girls took 5th place!  The article below was in the local KM weekly newspaper and includes a photo of the local boys' team that took 3rd place.

The youth this past year were very connected to a soldier named Miri in the Better Together program that volunteer at their club. She was like a big sister to many of them. When she was about to leave, they threw a surprise party for her, one that they totally planned by themselves. (While this may not seem unusual in the US, it is remarkable that young teens do such a thing in Israel.)

In the 2 years that Elad has worked with this program, he has seen a tremendous change in the behavior in the participants. Their grades have improved; they’ve learned to work well in a group setting; their way of thinking has become more positive and responsible, and they very much want to help their peers and younger kids do the same. The city has seen a reduction in vandalism too which they in part attribute to the success of this program. The youth are proactive with their peers and younger kids. If they see kids smoking and drinking, they will go up to them and say that they used to drink or smoke, but that they have changed their behavior and it has brought them many positive results.

Many of the participants move up the 9th and 10th grade group that also works with HaPoel Tel Aviv.

Submitted by Dina Tanners, July 30, 2010

No comments: