Surprises from the First Day of School

'Recess' photo (c) 2008, Jose Kevo - license: summer feel short to you? For the first time in history, Israeli schools didn’t start on the first of September. Starting on the 27th of August gave us back five extra days of vacation during the last school year.

My vacation went like this: New York niece came for 3.5 weeks, husband and son went to the US for 10 days, we all went on a family vacation, and school started. So summer passed quickly despite the terrible heat and humidity. Today has been the first pleasant day in two months.

My youngest two started fourth and sixth grades. Last year, their schedules coincided five out of six days each week, even though one had two late days and one had three. I didn’t expect such luck this year, but they came home with a note announcing that all children, from grades one through six, will end at the same time. Ending times are earlier than last year: 1:20, 2:15 (Tuesday/Wednesday) and 11:30 (Friday) insteady of 1:45, 2:30 (0-3 random days) and 11:50.

The earlier times also work for parents whose kids are in gan (preschool) until 2 PM (see more on that below).

I called the vice principal to ask where the extra 15-25 minutes are going each day—are recesses being shortened? She explained that most schools end at 1:20 PM, and in our school, teachers had been working an extra 15 minutes a day without pay. To understand this you need to know about “teacher hours,” which is the way the education ministry budgets class times and teachers’ salaries. I told the vice principal that I’d still like to know what my children did in school last year that they won’t be doing this year. She answered that one of the recesses was shortened! She then mumbled that she was in the middle of something and would get back to me shortly.

The principal herself called me back, and indeed recesses are being shortened. She said other state-religious schools in the city had the same problem, and related it on an attempt to imitate the hours of the semi-private schools but without a corresponding budget.

The school also set up a schedule with parallel math and English classes for each grade. This way, kids with special needs can get more help.

In other school news, I bought a lot fewer books thanks to the book borrowing program. The kids even bought their own school supplies they needed and went on their own. I had to buy for my highschooler, and the store worker said that most local schools didn’t participate in the new program. But students at my daughter’s old high school got books for free. I paid NIS 280 per child.

For those of you with 3-year-olds in the municipal preschool system, I hope it is going smoothly. A neighbor told me that the municipality kept 4- and 5-year-olds in the same locations, placing new ganim for 3-year-olds in ganim out of the neighborhood. So at 2 PM,  the kids will have to walk a kilometer home after having neither napped nor eaten. I don’t envy parents in this situation, especially if they have other small children. I heard on the radio that the education ministry will let parents pick up children early, but only until January first.  By that time the children are supposed to have acclimated.

In personal news,  my second son is out of the army (as is my older son). He plans to work and start university courses.

Parents, did you get any surprises on the first day of school?


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  1. No major surprises, except that my daughter’s gan 4 ganenet decided to nix the Sifriat Pijama program (a program where they get a new book every week to keep, for free) because she didn’t like the messages in some of the books, and because in a book about Shlomo Hamelech and the Bee, they drew a picture of Shlomo Hamelech. At the end of her explanation of why she didn’t want to participate in the program, she basically said, “The organization that gives out the books is too pluralistic, and besides, they’re Reform.” All the moms were nodding in agreement, but I was really pissed off. We got Sifriat Pijama books last year from the gan 3, and they were wonderful.

    • Isn’t there a program like this in the US called PJ something or other?

      • Yes, I think it’s called the PJ Library. (Correction to my previous post: They get the books once a month, not once a week.)

    • i think the PJ library in america is geared to public school or non-affiliated kids. my son gets the books, but i don’t remember particulalry objectionable content. (but i haven’t read most of the books myself)

  2. It is actually a US-based program, and you dont’ get a book a week – you get 8 books until the end of the school year (which means roughly a book a month). My son’s gan also participates.

  3. When it comes to school learning, less is better . What a pity recess is being shortened. My kids have finished school. I like to ask kids if they like school – most kids don’t , and if they like school it is because of friends. As parents we have a role to help schools focus on a more holistic view of education and make sure that kids don’t have to work a second shift by doing so much homework. Homework for primary school kids should be the exception and not the rule

  4. Michal Levy says

    Our girls’ school also shortened the schedule by 40 minutes per week. I don’t dare to ask what they’re cutting on.

  5. ben waxman says

    2 surprises from my daughter’s gan (gan 4):
    *) she MUST wear her hair in a pony. the ganennet claims that it prevent lice from spreading and she likes it that way.
    *) if we pick her up late (even just a minute or two) we’ll be fined.

    • Michal Levy says

      Ben that sounds horrible 🙁

      Good luck with the ponytail. In my experience, many 4 year olds pull it out during the day.
      Also, I find that the fining for coming late sets a bad tone between parents and ganenet. I’d get pretty resentful.
      One of the things I like a lot at our gan is that they don’t whine when I’m a bit late (rarely happens). .

    • Too bad ponytails don’t help with lice, which live near the scalp. I didn’t hear anything about fines–is this for the municipal gan or the tzaharon?

    • You should have someone start tracking if the gan staff come in late!

  6. my son started school on monday. we found out only a few days earlier that he is a class with a lot of bad kids. there is an extra teacher in the room. hopefully it will be ok.

  7. My new thing this year is newly married son starting university. His first day in gan does not seem all that long ago.

  8. quote ‘ he is a class with a lot of bad kids. ‘ I don’t think kids are bad , maybe they have issues and challenges

    • Allan:

      a) of course there are bad kids. how do you think bad adults start out? or do you likewise excuse bad adults?
      b) frame it as you wish. kids who have bad behavior rather than bad kids. or kids who have issues and challenges. etc. it doesn’t really matter and i don’t really care. they aren’t my problem. my first concern is my kid and i don’t want my him around them for eight hours every day.