As health officials examine the extent of Covid-related injury to Israeli youth, teachers point to the severe blow to reading skills caused by the 18-month lockdown. “The Corona crisis created a massive decline in students’ reading ability and comprehension,” declares Mrs. Chayut Raanan, director of Boys Town Jerusalem’s remedial reading program. “The ramifications are so far-reaching that some 50% of our students are now unable to read at grade level.” The school’s urgent campaign to combat the crisis encompasses every classroom, from science to history to Jewish studies.

“Students at the junior high level were particularly hard hit,” Chayut notes. “Distance learning notwithstanding, it’s as if they lost two years of their education. Most have difficulty reading and comprehending, and they can’t formulate questions, give complete answers, or even follow simple instructions.” Working together with teachers in all major subjects, Chayut heads a program, primarily for Grades 7-9, aimed to give students clarity in their thinking process. “Using signs across the classrooms, games and other techniques, we’re going back to the basics of learning question words, the formulation of direct answers, and more.”

In addition, Chayut painstakingly works with small groups of students to improve their reading skills, vocabulary comprehension, and ability to relate to words in a sentence. “After just several months, we’re seeing real improvement,” she smiles. “The major problem is that our present funding only covers some 30 students each semester, a mere fraction of those in need.”

Chayut stresses that the traumatic home situations of so many of our boys takes a heavy toll on their scholastic abilities. Thirteen-year-old “Benny” was simply out of control when the campus reopened. “He only survived the anger, frustration and poverty at home by sinking into a blur of nonstop digital devices, with no patience for Zoom learning. I told him he could be at the top in his class if he’d only work hard with me. That’s what he needed to turn around: he’s now so proud to be a great student!”

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