September 5, 2006 / Elul 12, 5766
“It's hard to imagine teaching a classroom of 30 students that will jump every time a door slams or at the sound of an ambulance siren,” says Ofer Zafrani, assistant principal and a former student at the Danciger School in Kiryat Shemona. “We are totally unprepared to deal with the traumas from the summer that each student will bring into the classroom.”
This week the Danciger School opened its doors to 1,300 junior and senior high school students—80% of the city's students. Traumatized by a month of unrelenting war, these are not the same youngsters that looked forward to summer vacation in July. And almost as if a mirror reflection of what these teens have endured, the renovation of the school itself, hit by five Katyusha rockets which damaged 32 of the 48 classrooms, is still far from complete.
It is the trauma that is the most serious issue says Zafrani. Walls can be repaired, televisions and computers will eventually be bought, but the unseen and most lasting damage, the psychological damage that was inflicted on the students and staff themselves, remains.
According to Zafrani, educators in northern schools are concerned about their ability to help students cope with the common syndromes of post traumatic stress, such as insomnia and nightmares, anxiety and the inability to concentrate, irritability and depression.
“We are simply ill-equipped to handle 1,300 anxiety-ridden students, and we are in desperate need of professional help for our children. With no finances for art therapy, psychodrama or any other positive enrichment activities it is difficult for us to help the children come to terms with their trauma and start the healing process."
Before the war ended, the Jewish Agency for Israel moved into action to develop a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the shattered northern region. The plan includes A New Tomorrow, a wide-ranging program to move school children from trauma to recovery through reintegration into the formal and informal education system.
For schools such as Danciger, A New Tomorrow offers afternoon enrichment programs, tutoring for children falling behind in their studies and values education for teens now questioning everything. It brings together a network of partners, including volunteers and professionals, which will enable the program to be tailored to specific community needs.
Says Zafrani, “we would like to bring a group of students from the Tel Hai College in Kiryat Shemona to come and act as “big brothers” for our students; to help the children by talking to them, supporting them and motivating them to study."
As part of the Jewish Agency's plan for transitioning children from crisis to excellence, students studying at northern regional colleges will receive a scholarship for up to 75% of their tuition. In return, they are committed to weekly volunteer work serving as mentors for school age youth in the area. At the same time, these scholarships will boost registration for the regional colleges, where registration has dropped almost 30% in the wake of the war's economic devastation.