Second Chance, New Beginning

An interview with Ron Pollack, Principal of Dor High School, Herzliya – one of nine schools that entered the Hatchala pilot in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, the Democratic Institute and JDC Ashalim.

Dor is a second-chance high school for students who lost their way in the education system. This year, Dor High School adopted the Hatchala Model. The motivation: to make learning relevant, and to transform the school into a place where students can express their strengths and passions while having a say in the learning process, so that we may provide them with fertile ground for change – a real opportunity to experience an emotional, educational, social and moral process. We talked with Ron Pollack, the high school’s principal, about the program.

What are the challenges you face at the school?

“One of the major challenges is attendance. Many students at Dor are overt or hidden dropouts: some are used to staying at home, others come to school but have difficulties taking an active part in learning. We realized that the key to successfully bringing these kids to school isn’t just forming an emotional or personal connection with them, but also creating relevant learning processes, sparking their interest and curiosity, allowing them to express themselves and their strengths in school, making them feel successful and nourishing creativity. We believe that doing so boosts their self-esteem and confidence, fosters a “can do” attitude, and brings back their passion for learning and succeeding.”

How does the Hatchala Model help you cope with these challenges?

“Hatchala has the same idea in mind and takes it a few steps forward, because it is also a matriculation program (5 – 10 units of theoretical studies). This creates an innovative and breakthrough learning experience, based on choice and passion, while also studying for matriculation exams. The Hatchala Model is based on a course of study called ‘leadership and initiative in a business environment.’ We believe in the model’s pedagogic principles: choice, passion, relevancy, active learning in the real world. Having a mentor teach you a subject helps the student grow and be motivated, and this is the key to our success. It could be in the chef’s kitchen at the Dan Accadia Hotel, at a horse farm or at a tech company. Where they intern, the place where they are involved, is paramount.”

What about the Hatchala Model sparks this change?

“I think that this type of learning shouldn’t be reserved only for students at democratic schools, and it should be available to weaker populations. This year made me believe that it is possible. It isn’t easy, but we’re hoping to continue and succeed.”

How is the model implemented in the school?

“We have two Hatchala grades in our school: 10th and 11th. Many of our students decided to switch to the Hatchala program. We have ten 11th graders and fourteen 10th graders studying under Hatchala. We expect at least a 40% increase next year, with more of our younger students becoming involved in Hatchala.”

What type of people are the mentors? How would you describe them?

Ron lets Guy Bardan answer this question. Guy is the school’s Hatchala coordinator, and he contacts its mentors. “The mentors are identified using a network of connections, through the city, through teachers, and through the community. They are extremely passionate about being involved, they feel part of something big. One of the mentors recently told me that she wishes she was in a program like Hatchala when she was a kid and she believes that this model, which lets students express their strengths, is a must for every school. Another mentor is one of our graduates who decided to participate in the project to come full circle. He is very grateful for the process that led to him being one of our mentors, even though we felt that we should be thanking him. Another mentor is the father of one of our graduates, and one mentor has been volunteering for many years at the boarding school where our students live – it is a community of high quality, passionately involved individuals. Our mentors ‘think big’ about how to customize personal learning curriculums that combine theoretical and professional aspects. For example, one of our mentors is an electrical engineer and he took one of his students from the theoretical – drawing a circuit board, to the practical – actually building a working circuit board.”

Who are your partners?

“This unique program is only possible thanks to the cooperation and trust placed in the school by esteemed officials and colleagues: Ministry of Education officials, especially Dasi Beeri – Director of Secondary Education, who helps us think about new ideas and is a true pioneer in leading the way, the school supervisor, Mirit Shapira, and program coordinator Shai Saadon – all of whom believe in this vision and are willing to go hand-in-hand down this unpaved road. I also have to mention the leaders of out city’s education system, who are part of a breakthrough vision in Herzliya and always support the school: Mayor Moshe Fadlon, Deputy Mayor Aya Prishkolnik, Director of the Department of Education Dr. Yaakov Nachum, and Director of Secondary Education Hagit Aviram – who all believe in our students and Dor High School’s staff, allowing us to constantly progress and move forward. JDC Ashalim and Ronli Rotem have been supporting this entire venture. The institute’s advisors brought this unique model to Israel and had it make Aliyah.”

What are the challenges you faced with this program?

“There are many challenges that are part and parcel of our success. I think you can either ‘talk about’ or ‘do.’ And we are a team of doers – the students learn. It is a practical change – an innovative way of thinking about learning and where it happens. The challenge is getting through it the first time without knowing where it will take us. Last week, we held a special evening where Hatchala students presented everything they did this year. They talked about their experiences with a spark in their eyes, and about how great it is to learn closely from their mentors. We had, for example, one student who is interning as a DJ, another at a prestigious motorcycle garage, a travel agency, a software developer at Microsoft, a hairdresser, and more.”

A few words about Hatchala for those that don’t know what it is:

Hatchala in Hebrew is an initialism for internship, mentorship, learning and experience. It is a method originally called Big Picture Learning, which made waves in the USA, where a high number of students passed their final exams. Most of these students were the first in their families to go to college. The method was brought to Israel by the Democratic Institute, together with the Ministry of Education and JDC, and had its first trial run this year in nine Jewish and Arab schools across the country.

One of the leading principles of Hatchala is learning through an internship with community mentors, in various work environments. We put an emphasis on the student’s passions and his choice of where he wants to intern. The students’ schedules provide for one day of employment a week (instead of a day in school), and the rest of their time in school they spend learning additional skills, such as writing a resume, preparing and passing job interviews, developing study and management methods, speaking before large crowds, reflective thinking, making drafts to kick-start improvement, providing feedback, and more.