Howard Lanznar, ORT America board chairman, and wife, Gail, a member of the ORT America Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, interact with students at the Rodman school in Kiryat Yam.
Howard Lanznar, ORT America board chairman, and wife, Gail, a member of the ORT America Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, interact with students at the Rodman school in Kiryat Yam. (Nitzan Zohar)

As an added value to the program, students who have gained a basic level of proficiency are encouraged to mentor their peers, thereby acquiring additional skills that will serve them well as they go forward.

As an Israeli town with one of the highest percentages of new immigrants, it was only natural that Kiryat Yam would attract refugees from Ukraine who have been streaming to Israel in the last couple of months. One of the most important elements of helping these families process their trauma and settle is ensuring their children’s education can finally resume. 

Kiryat Yam’s low socio-economic index means that local students are more academically challenged in comparison to their counterparts in the center of the country. But it’s specifically here that kindergarten children are being taught how to build and even program simple robots, enabling them to gain rudimentary familiarity with technology in preparation for studying STEAM (science, tech, engineering, art, math) subjects in the future.  

“Through our robotics programs in kindergartens, sponsored by the Detroit-based Fisher Foundation, ​and continuing at the D. Dan & Betty Kahn STEAM Center at the Rodman school, we provide under-resourced children with an extra boost from the youngest age possible, so that they’ll gain the tools and the confidence to pursue higher education and fulfilling careers,” remarked Dan Green, CEO of World ORT.

World ORT President Dr. Conrad Giles with Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nachman Shai, the keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies of the World ORT Mission.
World ORT President Dr. Conrad Giles with Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nachman Shai, the keynote speaker at the opening ceremonies of the World ORT Mission. Nitzan Zohar

Giles was speaking to World ORT delegates who, for the first time in over two years, convened in Israel to experience firsthand the extensive work of World ORT and meet students directly impacted by it.

During a packed visit to Kiryat Yam, between meetings with the mayor and high-level municipal and educational representatives, delegates got an up-close view of the natural progression of World ORT’s STEAM education in action. 

After watching 5-year-olds playing with robots they’d built and programmed, the group met middle school students at the D. Dan & Betty Kahn STEAM center’s robotics lab who were delighted to show off the robots they’d learned to build and code. 

As an added value to the program, students who have gained a basic level of proficiency are encouraged to mentor their peers, thereby acquiring additional skills that will serve them well as they go forward. 

Technion graduate Natalie Korlick, a resident of Kiryat Yam and originally from Russia, is one of the instructors at the STEAM center. “While STEM used to be considered nerdy, today it’s become cool. Everyone wants to learn robotics.” 

Korlick, who also works as a math and science tutor, says academic gaps are evident in almost all students from all grades. “It’s as if they lost an entire year,” she says, referring to the sporadic, long-distance schooling caused by COVID. “They have to work extra hard this year to catch up.” 

If that’s true for the students at Rodman, it’s all the more so for the Ukrainian students who’ve seen their whole world turned upside down, and who must adapt to a new country, language and mentality. Thanks to her knowledge of Russian, Korlick can provide an extra level of support for the newly arrived Ukrainian students.

“Helping these kids who have been through so much and who arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs is exactly what we’re about,” Giles said. “We couldn’t be happier that our programs are being used to help get them on track to a better future.” 

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