PERACH, the student tutoring program initiated at the Weizmann Institute by a few students and their adviser in 1972, is stronger than ever. Last year, some 22,000 university students took up the challenge of tutoring disadvantaged or needy schoolchildren. Since 1991, the program has been awarding special scholarships to 12 of the most outstanding tutors – among the thousands of excellent, deserving tutors who participate in PERACH. The following are the stories of two of those tutors.
Nofar Vaknin studies elementary math education at the Oranim Academic College of Education. When Nofar met Lital at the beginning of the school year, her biggest fear was that the girl’s extended family – living together in one apartment – and complicated home life could interfere with her studies.
Nofar’s misgivings were soon laid to rest: The family members were very involved in one another’s lives, but they knew when to keep their distance. Nofar and Lital began working together on Hebrew, math and science. They completed homework assignments, studied for tests and, when they finished with these, put on makeup, sang karaoke and played board games.
Everything was going well until, two months into her tutoring, Nofar got a phone call. It was Lital’s mother, telling her that the girl had undergone an operation to remove a malignant growth from her brainstem, and she was now about to undergo a series of difficult treatments.
Nofar says: “I understood that I was about to undergo a change in my life as well, to be involved in Lital’s transition from a completely normal child to one in an extreme situation, including changes in her mood, her physical state, her social situation, her studies, her feelings – all of it falling on her at once!”
Nofar’s PERACH coordinator suggested that she seriously weigh the possibility of stopping the tutoring. Nofar, after some deep reflection, decided to stay on, though she admits that the decision was not an easy one. In a final report on her year’s activities she wrote: “Before each meeting, I hesitated, thinking ‘what will it be this time? What will I see when I open her door?’ There were many surprises, most of them unpleasant and hard to cope with. Yet I discovered that when I saw Lital, my reserves would refill, my tension would dissolve and I would feel that I could never abandon her. Every time, I had to overcome my anxiety, but afterward I would be filled with satisfaction that I had not skipped the meeting.”
Visiting Lital in the children’s oncology ward, Nofar helped her talk about her difficulties, took her to the hospital art room to create artworks and helped her maintain her friendships with her classmates. When the girl was home, Nofar took her on a shopping outing, to an amusement park and a costume parade for Purim.
Nofar’s coordinator, who nominated her for the prize, said she showed a great deal of seriousness and responsibility during her tutoring, as well as flexibility in adjusting her schedule to that of the girl’s treatments.
Marina Petrikovsky is a life sciences major at Bar-Ilan University. She was assigned a fourth-grader, Daniel, who spoke no Hebrew. Daniel is the child of immigrants from Russia who did not encourage him to learn the language because they, themselves, had not put down roots in the country. Their life experience had taught them they could be picking up and moving to another country at any time. But for Daniel, not having command of the language was a serious problem both at school and in the schoolyard.
Indeed, Daniel, in his short life, though he had been born in Israel, had moved with his family from one place to another. So when Marina showed up at his house, full of motivation to help the boy develop a positive relationship with his environment, he was less than cooperative. He was not interested in forming relationships – neither with this tutor nor with the teachers or friends from whom he would only have to part if the family was to be uprooted once again.
Marina reported her frustration to her coordinator at their first meeting. Though she spoke to Daniel in Russian, he was resisting her attempts to reach him. But then the coordinator said something that opened Marina’s eyes. “Maybe he is testing you,” she said. “He wants to know if you will still be around when things get tough.”
From that day on, Marina decided to be a role model. She came regularly, keeping up the activities even when Daniel declined to participate. Marina, who came to Israel at age six, showed him she understood his problems. She asked for permission to meet with his teacher, going to see both the teacher and the guidance counselor on her own time.
Daniel had no books, games or computer at home; Marina brought anything she could to enrich his home life: art materials, teaching aids, games.
Under Marina’s coordinated campaign, Daniel’s impregnable wall began to crack. Soon he was speaking Hebrew with her and with the other children in class. His schoolwork improved and his teachers noted that he was even taking an interest in school. And, thanks to Marina’s trips with him to the playground, he began interacting with other children outside the classroom. Today, Daniel is well liked in class, loves going to school and even loves Israel.
Marina’s PERACH coordinator barely recognized the smiling cheerful boy who came to the end-of-the-year event. “When I told Daniel I was going to nominate Marina for the scholarship, he gave me a big smile and said he was sure she would win because she is ‘the best tutor in the world,’” she says.