Following 20-year old Niot Watzman’s z”l tragic death in a 2011 scuba diving accident, his parents, Ilana and Haim Watzman founded The Niot Project. It honors Niot’s life and accomplishments as he faced and overcame the challenges of learning disabilities.
The Niot Project is a comprehensive educational model dedicated to enabling students (ages 13-18), parents, and school staff to work together effectively to improve the scholastic performance and emotional resilience of teens with learning differences. The model is being implemented at the 14 Israeli high schools and residential campuses operated by the Society for Advancement of Education, Jerusalem (SAE), among them Dror High School, Niot’s former high school.
In December 2017, Ilana and Haim Watzman visited The Niot Project at the SAE Reut School in Jerusalem and here are some of their impressions.
“The Niot Project and Re’ut High School changed the life of Matan, who lives south of Jerusalem. ‘I had a difficult childhood,’ Matan recalls. ‘I didn’t understand why I’m in this world and why I’m alive.’
“We met Matan at a visit we made in December to Re’ut, a unique Jerusalem high school that belongs to the Society for the Advancement of Education network. Matan, now in ninth
grade, came to Re’ut two and a half years ago with formidable difficulties—attention deficit, communication issues, and problems understanding lessons.
“Matan speaks slowly, weighing each word. With a mane of hair that goes every which way, he looks like a typical ninth grader, but not long ago his mother told him ‘that I’m on ‘the spectrum,’ which means autism, but on the good end. I was surprised, but it explained my difficulties to me.’
“Yochi Yamrom, Re’ut’s Niot Project coordinator, told us that Matan is a high achiever now, thanks to a special learning program tailored to his specific needs. In keeping with the Niot Project vision, all the help Matan needs—extra lessons in small groups, private, and emotional support—is provided to him within the regular school day. This makes it easier for him to learn in a structured and integrated way. Instead of wasting time on homework with him, his parents can focus on providing him with love and support.
“We also met Aviv, a twelfth-grader so busy preparing for her bagrut high school graduation exams that we had to keep our conversation short—she did not want to miss a class. According to Zehava Cohen, a matalit (therapeutic learning coordinator) at the school, when Aviv arrived at Re’ut in seventh grade, she was incapable of sitting in a classroom lesson and did not believe she could succeed in her studies. She turned around completely thanks to the patience and help offered her in the framework of the Niot Project.
“’When I’m having difficulties, there’s someone to turn to,’ Aviv says. She makes special mention of a weekly session she has with a teacher who helps her ‘organize my week.’ That may seem simple but is not at all for a young person who has trouble concentrating.
“Niot’s spirit is very much present in every corner of Re’ut. Re’ut doesn’t call itself a school but rather a community, and it is a very heterogeneous community. Its students are both religious and non-religious; some have physical disabilities. Teaching staff and students feel a strong sense of common purpose. That being the case, it is not at all surprising that, when we ask Matan what he sees as his next stage at school, he says that he very much wants to help others: ‘I’d like a small group of studies whom I could teach.’”