The Close-Up Learning program gives students a break from distance learning
Since March 2020, Israel’s students have been subjected to a constantly-changing curriculum of studies as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. They have cycled through in-person classes, classes on Zoom, asynchronous assignments, splitting their classes into two “capsules”, and all sorts of combinations thereof. This has created a lack of stability in the students’ lives, as well as an increasing sense of isolation. Surveys of high schools indicate higher rates of anxious and depressive behavior among students, amplified by loss of their social safety nets and financial stress on families. Teachers as well are feeling the brunt of the constantly-changing guidelines and many report feeling stretched too thin and burnt out by the high expectations to constantly pivot their lessons to new forms of instruction.
Educators from Dror Israel are providing support for teachers and students during this chaotic school year. As part of their program of studies at Beit Berl College, they have begun a program called Close-Up Learning, a play on the term “distance learning”. The program consists of a series of weekly activities run for over a hundred high school classes at 17 high schools throughout the country.
Close-Up Learning gives students an opportunity to safely meet their peers face-to-face while giving them a chance to process together the effects of the ongoing crisis on their lives. The Dror educators each take a class of students for one school day, once a week to a nearby park. There they fun informal activities, games, and discussions designed to give the students a platform to process their chaotic year while having fun together. The program also aims to lighten the load and support the country’s teachers.
In the first session, the students process their feelings and experiences of loneliness during the long months of Zoom classes and talked about how their class can be a social support structure even when they aren’t meeting in person.
In subsequent sessions, they learn about the various effects of the COVID crisis on different sectors of society and hear about how different organizations and individuals are responding. The classes then brainstorm together about ways that they can have a positive impact on their communities during such difficult times.
The program end with an invitation for the students to join a volunteer project in their neighborhood.
A ninth grader from north Tel Aviv said of the program, “I really liked having the chance to bond with my class after having been apart all year. It was really nice to break the routine and talk about the stuff that’s actually bugging us.” Another student added, “Everyone’s always asking us how we are doing. It’s annoying because obviously no one is doing well! But these meetings gave us a chance to talk about it and feel like we aren’t alone. It’s really helped me and my friends.”