Today, one year after scoring a striking scholastic achievement, Boys Town Jerusalem is rallying to a new challenge: helping students harmed by the coronavirus school closure to catch up on their studies, regain their stamina and hope, and pass the critically-important bagrut matriculation exams ahead.

Last year, BTJ students set a milestone with a record-breaking 96.2% of students who passed the 2019 national bagrut examinations, compulsory for entry to Israeli colleges and universities. Heads above the national average, the school’s achievements are extremely impressive. Unanimously, students credit their success to longtime BTJ principal Yossi Cohen for his ceaseless efforts to help them prepare for and excel in the crucial exam.

Yet no one ever imagined that this prominent feat would be followed by the 2020-21 school year plagued by illness, closed schools, remote learning, serious family crises, uncertainty and despair. “Day and night, I carry with me the names, phone numbers and a constant, gnawing worry for the many boys who are now struggling to prepare for the upcoming bagrut exams,” Cohen says.

Although the Ministry of Education has reduced the number of bagrut subjects to be tested this year following the three-month (to date) closure of schools, the challenges are daunting. “

The effects of the corona crisis were debilitating for many, particularly for those from difficult home situations. A good 20% of our boys are now suffering from anxiety and depression.”

Cohen’s solution: specially designed after-school classes and tutoring sessions for students in distress. “Corona restrictions limit us to only five students per group,” he explains. “With our budget severely limited as well, some teachers are now working voluntarily.” At this point, alienation is the principal’s top concern. “Those boys who became so disconnected from school during the closures are having serious problems returning to academics. Talking and listening to them helps the most. I won’t give up on one of our boys under any circumstances.”

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