Securing the future of Jewish schools across Latin America and co-operating effectively to overcome common challenges were among the leading topics at a gathering of regional ORT leaders in Mexico.
The three-day conference, hosted at Colegio Olamí ORT in Mexico City, was led by World ORT Director General and CEO Dan Green and brought together educational leaders from our schools and institutions across Latin America.
Delegates representing ORT schools in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru shared their experiences and committed to increasing collaboration and mutual support, with the backing of World ORT’s senior lay and professional leadership and ORT’s Latin America regional coordinator.
Dan Green said: “The opportunity to be together was vital for our work in the region. Sharing experiences and understanding the ways World ORT can assist greater regional co-operation is crucial.
“All Jewish schools face significant challenges in finding Hebrew teachers. But we are committed to helping them and also to ensuring Jewish continuity and experiences throughout Latin America. I look forward to returning soon and continuing these conversations with our friends and colleagues.”
Colegio Olamí ORT was an inspirational setting for the talks. The recent merger of two Jewish schools, from the city’s Ashkenazi and Sefardi communities, has provided challenges but also incredible opportunities to innovate in the provision of general and Jewish studies, and to reinvent the ways they are offered to students.
An emphasis on diversity and choice has opened more than 50 new project-based courses through the Megamot program, encouraging young people to enjoy their passions and interests. Choosing one subject to explore in depth every six months, each student can find their niche as courses are led through interdisciplinary teaching by staff members supplemented by university lecturers and other outside experts.
The Jewish curriculum too has been reinvigorated around a carefully planned vision for the future of our students’ Jewish lives. Taught through a variety of sources including dance, music and art, young people are offered a pluralistic curriculum that offers a rich diversity of approaches to stimulate their curiosity and love of learning.
The school leaders recognized many opportunities to learn from each other and to replicate successful initiatives across the region. The inspirational work presented, and the positive spirit of cooperation, makes it possible to imagine that regular meetings between representatives will provide ideas, opportunities and solutions to many of the challenges faced by schools and their communities.
Priscila Alvarado, Director General of the ORT-affiliated Instituto Dr. Jaim Weizman in Costa Rica, which joined the network this year, said: “I wanted to learn more about the opportunities available to our students and teachers through ORT and participated in all the forums. We discussed the Olamí educational model and also ORT Argentina, as well as projects in which our students can participate.
“We are really benefiting from being part of the ORT network – it is a wonderful opportunity to establish connections with other schools in the region, learn from their good experiences and share our own. These collaborations benefit our students and teachers.”
During the meetings, each leader presented their local circumstances and the ways they could benefit from closer cooperation. Common challenges showed a trend towards shrinking Jewish populations and reduced student numbers – which brings knock-on effects to teacher numbers and budgets. Communities are exploring creative solutions, but many are facing difficulties over admissions policies. Another issue affecting most schools is the global shortage of expert Hebrew teachers.
Aliza Eskenazi, head of the ORT-affiliated Colegio Colombo Hebreo in Bogota, Colombia, said she was motivated to join the seminar by her desire to strengthen the school’s “feeling of belonging in the ORT network”.
She said CCH had received assistance in STEM and Jewish studies from World ORT and had benefited from good practices across the network.
“We must find common factors, common threads in our educational curriculum and in our values. World ORT’s proposals have always been very enriching and we are grateful to be part of the network.”
The summit meeting concluded with delegates resolving to share expertise, experience and resources between institutions. Areas of collaboration will include face-to-face and remote activities and exchanges to strengthen individual members and the network as a whole.
World ORT will convene another meeting next year and extend invitations to ORT operations in the region that were unfortunately unable to attend this first meeting.