Uri, an Israeli immigrant from the Former Soviet Union, came to Israel less than a decade ago. When he arrived in Ashkelon six years ago, he was already a smart and dynamic young man, but he had little direction. Then, he joined the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Net@, a program that pulls students from communities with lower socioeconomic levels in Israel’s north and south and trains them in computers – the hardware and programming. To get into the program, you have to achieve a minimum level of English proficiency and pass a rigorous interview process, demonstrating you have the intelligence and the character to learn and make a difference.
“I started the program because it was technology. I knew that I would be connected to Cisco Systems, [the worldwide leader in networking, on whose platform the students are trained.] Just to learn that, would have made this a great program for me,” says Uri.
However, the program gave him so much more.
“I ended up gaining life skills. I learned time management, how to give a class, to act responsibly and professionally,” he says.
The Net@ program runs from grades 9-12. In the first year, students meet weekly and are trained in computer assembly. In Ashkelon, for example, the students literally built their own training classroom from the microchip up. In years two and three, the classes meet twice a week to delve into computer programming and more complicated technologies. Each year, they are asked to carry out one volunteer project, which could range to offering computer training to the city’s elderly or youth-at-risk or building computers for the area’s needy. In the fourth year, they receive personal coaching and devote the majority of their time to using the computer skills they have learned. Post-program, their training almost ensures them a high-ranking position in one of the army’s elite units such as infrastructure, communications or intelligence. Ultimately, it translates into a job.
Since its inception, roughly 1, 500 students have graduated from Net@. Today, 900 youth are enrolled in the program.
Eighteen-year-old Ariel, now in his third year with Net@, says the program has changed his world, “I have a lot of self-confidence now. I feel I know more. Net@ really helps me with everything.”
THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore supports Net@ through its strategic partner, The Jewish Agency for Israel.