High tech education helps students be someone

Dad left. Mom got sick.

And their only son? Longing for an education but forced to work to support his family.

This was Mishael Solodkin’s life in Mexico City. The 23-year-old idealistic Jew desperately wanted to earn a college degree, thinking it would be his ticket out of poverty. Instead, he found himself working at a bakery, Starbucks, a public relations firm.

He felt no passion for his work. “It’s hard to know you won’t be able to be anyone,” he said.

Enter ORT.

The international vocational organization swooped into Mexico City and started the Centro de Medios Digitales, a small, high tech post-high school program that offered Solodkin one of eight spots. He’ll soon have an associate’s degree in digital film production.

“ORT gives you a second and even a third chance,” he said during a recent visit to San Francisco.

Solodkin is one of thousands of students ORT America and World ORT consider the fruits of its labors to improve high tech educational opportunities for children and better meet the needs of local economies. A handful of students, including Solodkin, traveled to Washington, D.C., in May for ORT America’s inaugural convention, and also around the United States to talk about their experience at ORT’s high tech schools.

The organizations’ most recent collaboration, Science Journey 2007, has put high tech equipment into the hands of Israeli students in 25 high schools across the country, providing students with access to computer labs, science labs, equipment, technology education, curriculum development and teacher training.

It is hoped that Science Journey, or Kadima Mad’a in Hebrew, will provide Israel with a more skilled workforce, said Sarina Roffe, an ORT spokeswoman.

“Israel needs people trained in science and technology,” she said. “That is the job sector and this is ORT’s mantra: We train a workforce that can move into local industry.”

Like Israel, Mexico City is undergoing a high tech boom. That’s why ORT started Centro de Medios Digitales, and why it plans to expand the program in the fall.

ORT has promoted technology education for about 10 years, but Science Journey is the largest project it has undertaken. The $7.4 million project doubled the Ministry of Education budget. It is the largest allocation the organization has ever made to help meet the needs of students in Israel.

“Kids have more opportunities to work on computers, which a lot of students wanted to learn but never had the chance before,” said Rachel Riska, 17, in Hebrew.

Riska is a junior at the Kadoori School in the Lower Galilee (the same school Yitzhak Rabin graduated from), a multicultural school with Jewish, Druze, Muslim and Christian Israeli students.

Riska was born in Israel. Her parents immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia. She hopes to study law after completing her service in the Israel Defense Forces, and she’s positive that ORT’s efforts to improve technology at her school will better prepare her for that path.

The 25 schools ORT is working with all have high percentages of high risk students. Most of the schools are in the north or close to Gaza, and were victims of rocket attacks during the Second Lebanon War.

Back in Mexico City, ORT’s support has gone beyond the academic for Solodkin. “ORT didn’t just affect my life, but my family’s,” he said. His mom, who has leukemia, just received a bone marrow transplant and is doing well.

Although he is almost finished with his course work, he isn’t entirely through with ORT. The agency paid half his tuition. And because he couldn’t afford the other half, he teaches younger children at a nearby, more veteran ORT school.

He’s hoping to become a filmmaker, though he enjoyed teaching much more than he anticipated. “I can show the children that they have the opportunity to grow,” Solodkin said. “They don’t have to abandon their hopes or dreams.”

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.