The Lifta High School in Jerusalem is a scholastically-oriented school with an emphasis on the arts, serving youths who have difficulty integrating into standard city schools due to learning or social issues. Many of these teens were unable to realize their potential in their former schools and some dropped out of school entirely.
Established in 1971 by a group of parents who came to Israel from English-speaking countries, Lifta school adopted the open education ideology. Originally set up in Lifta, an abandoned village at the entrance to Jerusalem, the school retains the name but resides today in the German Colony neighborhood in the southern section of the city and is under the auspices of the municipal department of education.
Over the years more and more pupils who had experienced difficulties in their former schools and looked for an alternative educational framework enrolled in Lifta High School. Lifta responded to the varying needs and challenges posed by its new pupils. The staff, under the long-time leadership of Ms. Hannah Godovitz, developed a unique therapeutic-educational approach that has proven to be effective for these pupils. Ms. Godovitz was awarded the Jerusalem Municipality Education Award in 2002 for her work.
The Lifta student body consists of 45 pupils in 10th through 12th grade. These teens have intact learning potential, yet have experienced difficulties integrating into large high schools. As a result, they were unable to realize their potential and develop their abilities, in many cases dropping out of their previous schools and left with no appropriate educational framework. The pupils' difficulties stem from a variety of reasons: some have learning disabilities, while others are faced with emotional and social challenges as well as difficult family situations. The student body is heterogeneous, with pupils from many different backgrounds. The majority of graduates serve either in the Israeli army or the national service program.
The Lifta School provides its pupils with an intimate, supportive environment in which they can flourish. The staff prepares an individual educational program (IEP) for each pupil based on his/her abilities, skills, specific challenges and pace. The pupils study in small, multi-aged groups of 10 and supplement their class work with individual and small group tutoring in Lifta's Learning Center during the school day. The Learning Center is staffed by Lifta's teachers and university students, who help the pupils with homework, prepare for tests and offer enrichment and reinforcement in the subjects studied in the classroom. In addition, the school employs a remedial teacher who works with those pupils in need of private remedial tutoring.
The school's curriculum offers a quality program of studies based on scholastic studies and the arts, enabling future academic mobility. Many pupils improve their grades and take matriculation exams.
The creative arts enable teens to express their abilities and skills, while experiencing the pleasure of success and accomplishment. For this reason, the Lifta School emphasizes the arts in its curriculum and each pupil is expected to enroll in at least one of these creative arts subjects: painting, sculpture, theater, photography, music, creative writing. The pupils can also study either art or theater towards a matriculation exam. During the course of the school year, the theater and music departments prepare professional performances and the art and photography departments prepare exhibitions of the pupils' work. The creative writing department publishes a school magazine, Liftan, which showcases the work of the pupils involved in the department. The success the pupils experience in the arts program helps building their self confidence, promotes their willingness to learn new subjects, directly impacting their scholastic studies.
The Educational-Supportive Framework
The Lifta School uses a holistic educational approach as it nurtures its pupils, encouraging them to develop emotionally as they succeed academically. The core element of the work of the educational staff is the development of a close relationship with each pupil, facilitating open communication between pupils and teachers. Each pupil has a guidance counselor/teacher assigned to him/her whose job it is to integrate the educational and therapeutic aspects of the program, responding to the emotional and scholastic needs of the pupil. The aim here is to develop the student's awareness of his/her talents and challenges through both individual and group work.
Individual Counseling Sessions
The school has developed a unique psycho-educational model in which every pupil has a teacher who functions as a counselor- teacher or case manager. The teacher gathers all information regarding each of his pupils and offers him/her warm and supportive mentoring, guiding him/her educationally and emotionally. This supportive relationship creates an atmosphere of trust and caring for the pupils through daily contact and bi-weekly individual counseling sessions.
There are four multi-age experiential groups in the school that meet with their assigned teacher once a week for group projects. Through this model, the pupils work on social skills, life skills, discussions relevant to teenagers, etc. The model utilizes both group discussions as well as experiential activities such as cooking or planning a group activity.
The school employs two additional and significant therapeutic figures: a school counselor and a clinical psychologist with expertise in work with teenagers.
The psychologist holds weekly meetings with the staff and counselor, involved in the emotional aspects of each pupil's program. The psychologist also fulfills an important organizational function, offering organizational consulting in decision making, determining policies and rules, as well as evaluation criteria and methodology. The psychologist meets once a week with the general staff for three hours as well as with the teachers.
The school counselor works closely with the 12th graders in their decision making process beyond graduation including decisions relating to army induction. She meets individually with each pupil and meets once a week for two hours with the class as part of the weekly schedule.
A social coordinating staff is responsible for social activities for the students, both during and after school hours. As in every public school, Lifta celebrates the religious and national holidays and conducts field trips. In recent years, the school has emphasized the importance of giving to the community and has increased the pupils' involvement in volunteer projects. Lecturers are invited to the school to enrich the pupils' knowledge and raise awareness of social issues. Each year a school volunteer project is chosen that can highlight the pupils' artistic skills. For example, past projects included painting a club for children at risk and organizing a Chanukah party for kindergarten children with special needs. This is an area of activity that the school intends to develop and expand further in the near future.