Avishai Dov, a tenth grader in Acco, remembers the day that staff from the Net@ program came to his school to recruit kids who want to work in a high-tech environment. Dov had always been interested in computers. He took the program's tests for English and social skills, and soon was spending 8 hours per week studying operating systems, networking, and how to build computers.
Now in its second year, Net@ provides a 3-year after-school training course for students in grades 9-12, enabling them to become certified PC technicians and web managers before finishing their senior year of high school. Currently serving 900 youth in 14 locations in Israel's geographic and socio-economic peripheries, the program is co-sponsored by the Jewish Agency, Keren Hayesod, the non-governmental organization Tapuach, and the giant high-tech company Cisco. Participants include a variety of Jews and Arabs; boys and girls; religious and secular teens. The course covers all areas of computer technology, from cable modems to servers to software applications.
The goal of the program is to provide students who might otherwise fall through socio-economic gaps to learn practical job skills and improve their English. Each class of 22 students is comprised of 2 who receive excellent grades in school, 10 average students, and 10 who are medium to weak academic performers. All, however, have demonstrated sound social abilities and teamwork skills, which serve them well both in the classroom and in their required community service projects.
"It's really about the empowerment of the kids," said program coordinator Yochanan Levy. "The platform is technology. When they are done, they could get a job anywhere they wish. And it transforms them for the army. The army already has their sights on them."
Participants are expected to give back to their communities. Already, second-year students are fixing computers for their elderly neighbors, teaching computers to elementary school students, and volunteering their skills at local hospitals.
"Our goal is to help people," Dov said. I'll be teaching other people of Acco who are interested in computers. Acco is in the periphery and we want to improve our city."
Before beginning the training course, all students engage in a 2-week summer camp, where they meet other participants from all over Israel and strengthen their English. During the school year, Net@ staff maintain connections with the participants, schools, ensuring that they are managing their school responsibilities and improving their grades. Students visit the Cisco offices to watch computer experts at work and enjoy a 2-day camping trip with leadership training. In the spring is a Net@ wide activity day for all 900 kids.
Instructors for the computer courses are highly-qualified high-tech professionals, specially recruited for the Net@ program. It is noteworthy that 70 percent of the instructors were previously unemployed; thus, Net@ is generating jobs as well as empowering Israel's weaker students.
"It's a great opportunity to learn new things," said self-described gamer Mohanad Roby, 14, of Old Acco. "You meet new people and make friends, not just Arabs but Jewish people. It helps me to be more self-confident. Now I know I can achieve more in my life, beyond school."