Postcard from an ORT school in Argentina

by | Apr 22, 2016 | Other News

ORT Radio.

ORT Radio.

Sixteen members of the Tidewater Jewish community traveled on a mission to the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, the mission allowed local donors to “follow their campaign dollars” to one of the many overseas communities served by Tidewater’s Annual Campaign.

This is the fourth in a series of “Postcards” from the mission, highlighting some of the most impactful experiences.

The mission participants knew right away that this was going to be a very special visit. From the moment they stepped through the front doors of the ORT school, set on a tree-lined street in Buenos Aires, the group was impressed and amazed at every turn. School Principal Alejandro Ferrari met and led the group down a series of immaculate hallways, into a light, bright, modern classroom. After introducing a number of his department heads, Ferrari (true to his name) wished us all a good visit and sped out of the room—clearly enthusiastic to get back to the work of running his wonderful school.

During a briefing with the department heads, the group learned about some of the school’s history, its size and student-body make-up, tuition rates, and the waiting list of students clamoring for a chance to attend. The Almagro campus (where we visited) is one of two ORT high schools in Buenos Aires (the other being ORT Belgrano—a smaller campus). Their combined enrollment is 8,500 students (ages 12 through 18). In a day and age when Jewish day schools in the United States are largely struggling with their enrollments, it was interesting to learn that 80% of Argentina’s Jewish teens attend ORT schools. More than 350 students are currently waiting for a spot to open up on one of these campuses.

With various distinctive career tracks, Almagro views itself as a school of opportunities. Its formula for learning is a common core curriculum with the addition of a specialty area. Among the specialties that students can elect are: business administration, chemistry, computer science, construction, electronics, ICT (information and communications technology), industrial design, mass media production, and musical production. It is clear that the school is preparing its students for 21st century careers.

Mission participants toured the school, stopping in several classrooms, where they had the incredible opportunity to meet with students and faculty and to see the kinds of hands-on learning activities, which really made for a stand-out experience.

The first stop was in the school’s wellequipped sound engineering and recording studio. Here the group learned about the school’s Musical Production Track. They watched (and listened) as students recorded sound tracks to synch with a movie that other students had produced. Voice-overs and sound effects were used to great effect.

Mission participant Don London, a vice president of operations for several radio stations in Hampton Roads, was particularly affected by the students at the school. “I was incredibly impressed with the ORT School in Buenos Aries. The students were so passionate and had all the social skills necessary to make it in today’s competitive business world. The equipment and software in the school’s recording studio was much the same as what we use at The Point, Z-104, 95-7, R & B and 2WD.”

The group made its way through the wide halls of the school, catching glimpses of students in their classrooms; passing through a science fair in a large auditorium space; and taking note of art projects and information posters adorning the bulletin boards along the way. The next stop was an open classroom of students. Half of the class was developing cell phone applications, and the other half was developing computer “games.” This was the school’s “Informatics Track.” Mission participants were thrilled to watch the young techies at work. Students explained their projects and answered questions. The discussions gradually moved to more personal questions about how the kids enjoyed school (they loved it and were thrilled to be at ORT!); what did they want to do when they got out? (Go to college—in Argentina, in the States, in Israel, in Europe); what did they want to do when they got out of college (Work for Google, work for Citroen, start a business).

Closer inspection of the projects revealed that not only were the students using skills they’d learned in class, the products they were developing were for use by children and adults with physical and learning disabilities. In a very “Jewish way,” these ORT students were learning to develop high-tech apps and computer programs in the spirit of Tikkun Olam.

The final stop on the group’s tour was its new Integrated Design Lab, where young engineers and budding architects were busy with the design of a multi-story complex. Mission participant and professional builder, Eric Joffe, was impressed that the students “not only produced the blueprints, but also made a 3-D model of the building. This class—one of several different tracks that the students could choose from—really resonated with me.”

It was interesting to note that the students, in their designs, were sensitive to the ecological impact of their buildings, as well as making sure that they were wheelchair friendly. These young adults will be well prepared as they enter college in the areas of design, engineering and architecture.

After fond farewells to the hosts and students, the group departed the ORT school full of energy—the kind that only terrific kids doing terrific things can impart. They left secure in the belief that these kids—the future of the Argentine Jewish community —the sons and daughters of family business owners, teachers, middle managers and various professionals— would become the engineers and architects, developers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. This next generation might very well be the one to lead the community and the country into a successful future. Now, if only the politicians could get out of the way and let it happen!

A final postcard will follow in a forthcoming issue of the Jewish News, which will wrap-up the mission. Stay tuned.

by Amy Zelenka, Missions director