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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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parenting

What do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
2008Feb-whales-sharks
Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.

SXSWedu 2013: Here Comes the Parents’ Voice

Oh my G! What did I do? I really want to speak, carry my thoughts and ideas about education and spread those ideas. Grow this conversation. Who knows, perhaps even make a difference, drive a change.

So I proposed a short talk to SXSWedu.  After browsing topics and proposal and previous years talks and other edu conferences panels I decided that the best contribution I can make to this event is to voice parents.kiriatiAtSXSWedu

In this oh so exciting conversation about the education reform that every country in the world is apparently going through, and that promise of a true revolution carried from stage to stage, there’s has been very little space left in the conversation for parents.

I hear amazing teachers, inspiring principals and administrators, great innovators, researchers, consultants, advisors, politicians. All or most are representing the revolutionized education system. The promises. Some, of course, are also parents. But it’s not the parents they are representing.

I want to voice the parents.

If I could, I’d voice the students too. I’d bring them along.

It’s like trying to draw a triangle using only one line and one angle.

Earlier this year I’ve had the pleasure of listening to almost 70 parents in one classroom voicing their educational vision in a meeting with the class’ new head teacher. I wrote about one surprise wish here.

But I’ve been talking with so many people, from all sides of the system. And kids too. And although this is not a scientific nor an academic research, I have to draw some conclusions.

I think teaching is one of the most challenging professions existing today. More than anything it is challenging because teachers are experiencing an earth quake in classrooms like no one else. Expectations are sky rocketing, but systems are so limiting.

And that’s why they find themselves too often in a battle against demanding and misunderstood parents. There are just too many wants, too different demands coming in, from too many directions.

Now, tell me, what do parents want???

You can post your answer here or join the conversation on Quora

Here’s a podcast of the actual talk: http://snd.sc/ZGPMVy I will be happy to hear what you think.

Schoolyear: A Good Start

Two whole months into the school year and I must say something. So here it comes. I have two boys in school this year, as my daughter has graduated high school last year. Now I have one son who has started high school this year (9th grade), and my youngest son, who is now in 5th grade.

The new high school is so different from the one I encountered with my daughter! There are some obvious reasons, but some are really a matter of choice. A management choice.

My 14 year old son is going to Thelma Yellin High National School of the Arts. By the looks of it you could not suspect that this is one of the most lucrative schools in Israel, or that it is private. It’s an old building with crumbling trailers as classrooms. But who cares? Certainly not the people who go there. The creative atmosphere is strongly felt through sounds and sights. But it’s also felt through the teachers, staff and management attitude.

The grading system is different. Grades will go up, for instance. Not something you see every day when they’re all doing average. “We want the students to be happy”, said to me one of the consultants, not a slogan. Really meant it. For a change I don’t feel like I am forced into a combat for my kid’s survival or dignity. It’s built into the system. There’s still a long way to go. I know. But at least it’s a good start.

My youngest is into his second year at the Waldorf Education school. It’s 5th grade and I am terribly impressed by the way they chose to introduce one of the more important learning skills. They have started this year with stories the teacher is telling from the mythologies of India, Persia & Babylon. He has been telling the story and the kids are to write the story in their notebooks and decorate them with illustrations. They can add descriptions and scenes that they come up with to enrich the stories, if they wish. But they have to listen, memorize, summarize, write and visualize. Not easy or simple. But the skill is so valuable and so well developed through these tasks.

Now to end this hard work the class has went on a 3 days field trip. Slept in tents, walked tens of kilometers, met with elders who shared their stories about the history of the country and the region. Learned discipline, nature, history and fraternity. Aren’t these skills as important to any child’s future?

What Would You Call a City’s Achievement in Education?

Last night I attended the graduation ceremony of the 1,420 8th graders in my city of Ramat-Gan, my son was one of them. It’s a big ceremony as graduating 8th grade marks the move from elementary to high school.
Some statistics they pointed out very proudly in the many speaches they had there was that there are no drop-outs in Ramat Gan. Strangely enough, I didn’t think the possibility of a dropout even exists, since the law in Israel defines education till the age of 15 “mandatory”. It goes to force both the parents and the local supplier of education to put the kids in a school.
But still, it sounds pretty.
I have a lot of criticism on education and education systems. There aren’t real alternatives to public education in Israel (only semi-private systems, that are still, in most cases, controlled by the cities/local councils).
There’s still a very long way to go before the many problems of education will actually be solved, but if there’s something I can be proud of in my city is their constant effort to innovate and change in education. Next year, for example, they are going to open up registration zones. This means that kids going to elementary school and their parents can choose the school that most fits the childs interests and won’t be forced to send their kids automatically to the closest school. To make the choice of schools interesting most elementaru schools in the city defined a “specialization”: arts, sciences, games, nature and environment, design, technology, leadership and more.

The other thing that makes me proud of this city’s education is the kids. They are actually good kids. Schools are safe and provide a friendly environment, at least in the social context. If you could see the 1420 students perform spontaneous group hugs on the stadium’s field at the end of the ceremony, you’ll know what I mean. This, which happened when most of the audience – families of the young graduates – was on the way out, was actually the height of the event in my view.

Ramat-Gan, by the way, is the city right next to Tel-Aviv, on the east. About 150,000 live here. The city is marking its 90th anniversary this year. That’s about a decade younger than Tel-Aviv and about 30 years older than our country. The population here is very mixed, socially, financially and anthropologically. It’s an interesting city to live in, with a mentality of a small town, really. Everybody knows everybody.

A little more about my town: http://www.ramat-gan.info/ramatgan/sister-cities/home-page.htm

I’m Back In High School !!

Last week I had a nightmare and woke up in cold sweat. I dreamt that I was forced to go back to high school and re-do my matriculation exams. I don’t think I would have been that frightened if I had dreamt of being sentenced to jail. And in a way, I feel I am partly there, doing my high school the second time around, due to my high identification with my daughter’s experience in high school.

If there’s something I regret, now that she is in 12th grade, about to finish it in 5 months is that I let her do the whole 4 years in high school. That I insisted, when she was in 9th grade and then when she was in 10th grade, that this is an important experience, that she doesn’t need to rush to university, that she must preserve her last bit of childhood by being a high school student and that high school bears some social meaning too. When she was in 11th grade it seems simply silly to leave school, she was halfway with her matriculation exams. But regrets keep growing. I guess she had to pay the price of being a first born.

In retrospect I realize that high school, like university, like any other form or frame, isn’t made for everyone, doesn’t always fit. For her it was totally redundant. She could have finished all of her matriculation exams with a perfect score independent of high school, would have done it much better and much quicker. Not wasting time in a classroom where a teacher is standing up dictating a book to the students. Her social circles have very little to do with her high school. In fact, most of her friends are from other high schools in the area. Her last childhood years, which I was so anxious for her to preserve, have been lost in favor of excessive homework assignments, too much time in the classroom and redundant tests. She barely has time left to play her music, read her favorite books, do her D&D, travel, party or simply have fun and relax. Why did I insist she stay in high school??

Now my son is about to finish 8th grade and we have started to search for the perfect high school for him. He is different from her, but I can’t help that sense that here I am about to do high school for the third time around!

We are looking for an arts high school for him. There are a couple of those in the vicinity, both with great reputations. One is the National High School of Arts (free translation from Hebrew). Considered “national” means that it gets its budget from the state and not from the city where it is located. Parents are requested to pay higher fees, yet the infrastructure is relatively bad reflecting in the very old and neglected buildings. The second high school we visited is the Tel-Aviv High School of Arts – a high school which enjoys high budgets from the city and presents a very high standard of buildings and equipments. It’s the visit in that second school that brought up the nightmare again.

The first school prides itself in having a reasonable table of classes – about 45 a week, out of which 15 are dedicated to the arts classes and 30 to the ‘regular’ subjects – to complete the matriculation exams. The second high school offers 12 hours a week dedicated to arts studies, and about 50 more dedicated to the ‘regular’ subjects. Both schools show great results in matriculation exams and the only question I am left with is – how does this school achieve it with 30 hours a week, and the other requires almost 50.

When I asked one of the school representatives about it she said “but the kids love it here!”. She then asked one of the senior year students to tell me and he said: “yes, we spend here long days, but we love it here”. How about life outside school? – I asked. “Well, we live our lives in school”, he confirmed. “This is it”.
I thought this to be sad. I mean, it’s nice that if you have to spend such long hours – sometimes 8 AM till 6 PM and more – at least you spend those hours in a friendly, pleasant and interesting environment – but don’t kids deserve to have some life outside school?? Is this what we have reduced their childhood to – School and tests??

I try to push aside my expected 4th time in high school. My youngest son is only in 4th grade. Looking at him I think he might not go to high school at all. He is the type who can do it his way. With grand plans – since he was 5 years old – to save whales and endangered species – high school will be a setback.

My Old High School
My Old High School

Why does it have to be like that? Why are high schools all about matriculation exams – SATs – Baccalaureate instead about knowledge and growth? and some childhood time…

It’s been several years since I graduated from high school… I am asking myself could I have evolved and be what I am today if I hadn’t finished high school, and it was during a much more conservative era. The answer is – yes. I started my writing career when I was very young. Not relating to the books I wrote (and never attempted to publish) when I was 10 and 14, at the age of 15 I was already a paid journalist. My grade at the “written expression skills” matriculation exams was somewhere around 60-70 percent. No one had ever asked me about it.

Toying with Words: Education, Learn, Teach, Hanukkah

A few months ago a young entrepreneur, as passionate as I am about education, approached me with an idea to create a TEDx conference or similar, dedicated to the education revolution, in Israel. I had just started to think of an education-revolution conference myself, but I didn’t think of doing it in Israel only. I want to create an event happening simultaneously around the world, in as many countries as possible. A revolution in education must happen globally and simultaneously to succeed. My friend had followed the TEDx education revolution conference in London. There were plenty of ideas worth spreading there, as usual, but not enough call for action in her view. I started to think of the “ignite” concept for our conference, since we want to ignite a change and let in many voices. But what is it that we want to change?

What the Words are Actually Saying

Being a professional namer I started to think about the words, the vocabulary of education. I don’t like the word “education”. I much prefer “learning”. Looking at it from the student’s point of view, education is something pushed to the students, while learning is something the students pull. With education students are passive, while in learning they are active. A mix is probably what we should be aiming at.

However, it is education we are referring to when we relate to the required “revolution”. These are “education systems” that are being criticized all over the world, and that are attempting reform one by one.
From Wikipedia: “Etymologically, the word education is derived from the Latin ēducātiō (“a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing) from ēdūcō (“I educate, I train”) which is related to the homonym ēdūcō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”) from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”).”

Looking at it from today’s perspective – education is only a part of what schooling should be about. Yes, it is about transferring accumulated knowledge from older generations to younger generations but that’s not all; it is about taking the younger generations from the place of not knowing and leading them to a new knowledgeable place. But that’s not enough. Certainly not when education systems are actually clogging the natural learning abilities of younger generations. Schooling should aim at enhancing natural curiosity and learning abilities with accumulated knowledge of the society. Enhancing. Aggregating. Developing. And doing it all with the students, and their natural resources. Rather than take them “from” one point to another, build on what the students are, what they bring with them, including their natural learning skills. I feel like a new word should be coined: “coducation”? Etymologically combining “cum” (with) and “dūcō” (I lead, I conduct). One problem with this new word is that “ed” has become a short for “education”.

If education is about teaching and learning, let’s see what “learning” can tell us. From about the 13th till the 19th century the verb “learn” was used for “teach” as well. That’s a curious thing. In Hebrew “teach” is “LAMED” and “learn” is “LEMAD”, and they share the same root. Note that “education” isn’t related (grammatically) to neither, in Hebrew too. The word “education” translates to “HINUKH” in Hebrew, which derives from the root of “to initiate”, or “renew” or “rededicate”. What do you know? The holiday we’re celebrating now is called “Hanukkah”. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple (the 2nd temple) during the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Do we want our kids “re”-anything? I don’t.

Into researching “learn” I ran across a wonderful word, cun, coming from the Old English word “cunnian”, which means “to learn to know, inquire into” and is said to belong to the same root as the word “can”. The word “can”, how wonderful, comes from the word “cunnan” in Old English, meaning “know, have power to, be able”. OH! Yes We Can!! That’s it! That’s what education is all about: Being Able. Now I feel like the new word should be “educan”. Etymology: education, learn, know, be able. What’s your new word for it?

Saying Thanks

I admire the Thanksgiving concept. Really, having a holiday dedicated to saying thanks and being appreciative of what you have is really a fantastic idea. Too often we find ourselves busy with what we don’t have, haven’t yet achieved, what we’re mad about and miss a lot. We talk about what frustrates us, or makes us sad or angry, and don’t stop enough to note what’s making us happy, what causes laughter, what gives us pleasure.

So here’s what I am grateful for:
I am grateful for our health, my family and mine. I am thankful for our home, food and cloths. I appreciate every minute we have as a family, whether traveling or spending a restful weekend at home. I am thankful when I see my kids smiling and happy. I share their joy when they complete a drawing, play a musical instrument or read a book under the duvet.
I am grateful that my husband is happy and healthy and I am thankful every time he makes me laugh. Thanks for my growing family, nephews and nieces, new sister-in-law and everyone’s happy moments. Thanks for every moment of interest, and being busy. It what makes getting up in the morning worth it.

Thank you all for this feeling that the world is changing, and I am taking a part in the change, even if it’s only a small part.
Thanks for reaching out and joining hands from across the world. I have readers from the US, Russia, the UK, Canada, India, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, France, the Philippines, Ukrain, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Taiwan, The Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Brazil, Pakistan, Turkey, Singapore and so many more… It feels like we’re all in it together. Thanks for global fraternity.

What are you thankful for?

Travels With My Family – Part II

With A Camper In New England

It was a first attempt, and a pretty good experience. We decided to rent a camper for our long route through New England. This turned out to be a really smart decision. We had all the convenience of, well, a small mobile home really. The camper felt nicer, better equipped and safer then the Airbnb rental we had experienced in New York the week before. Comfy beds, kitchen and bathroom travelling with us everywhere… And the kids being able to switch seats, and not be pressed together most of the time was one of the best features.

We prepared a long route and based our timing on references made by other travelers before us. But we hadn’t taken into consideration how slow we are in getting organized in the mornings, or how many times the iGo GPS will lead us through the wrong route. We had extended our camper rental for a day, and we still didn’t get enough of the beautiful New England views, sites and towns.

The worst of this part was my 9 year old breaking his arm. We took him to the wonderful Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and he got his arm in cast. He was particularly disturbed by not being able to draw and not having the chance to see whales, since we had to continue south, towards the next site on our route. On the bright side, the cast is coming off next week and the whole thing has been marked as just one more experience.

I think perhaps one of the best days of this tour was our visit to Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth New Hampshire on the very day they had a harvest festival. We enjoyed the shepherd dogs demonstrations most of all and got very excited by the whole happy atmosphere.

Museums With Kids

It amazes me when people say that “New York is not for kids”. What do you mean? I ask, what about all the museums?

For some reason most teen-parents we spoke with think a family vacation is Disneyland oriented, totally dismissing museums and defining them as “boring for kids”. This was never the case with my kids. Not that they don’t like Disneyland. They did. Still, with all the excitement we had experienced in Paris 2 years ago, I am not sure where they got more excited – at Disneyland or in the Louvre. We almost got kicked out at closing time, the kids simply refused to leave.

Similarly we had this fantastic experience now in New York. Two visits to the Natural History Museum, one to the Metropolitan and one to the fantastic (wish we had time to go back) MOMA. Why would anyone think this could be boring is beyond me. Each museum is like an expedition of something new, surprising, exciting or beautiful.

My 13 year old son is an amateur photographer, with way too simple cameras, and he collected many of his impressions through the lens of our old mini Cannon. We really should get him a serious camera (recommendations welcome).

Travels With My Family – Part I

Repeating Experiences

When my daughter was 12 years old we took a vacation together in London. This was our first ever mother-daughter vacation, and it was great. It wasn’t only a 5 day vacation. It was the foundation of phase two relationships between mother and daughter.

We strengthened it two and a half years later, taking a 2 week vacation to spend time in New York, Washington and Boston.

This fall we decided to take a family vacation in the US. Packed the family – one husband, one 17 year old daughter, one 13 year old son and one 9 year old son and went for the longest vacation we ever dared to take: 23 days. Some of it was re-visiting places for me and my daughter.

Revisiting has its own charm. The exchange of meaningful looks between us girls, or the enthusiastic chase towards a familiar site we visited 3 years ago. But most of all, it is so important to know you can return. That good times, or good vacations, aren’t a “once in a lifetime” occurrence. It’s so good to know you can do it again.

We also had a chance to improve on another experience. This time I haven’t lost her on the subway. She took her travels freely and happily to meet us at the Metropolitan Museum one morning. That one was for me…


In the movies

I had full intention of sharing my travel log with my readers. But too many things prevented it from happening. To count only a couple – lack of internet connectivity throughout most of our vacation, and me getting really sick for a big chunk of it.

So I’m left with bits and pieces. My 13 year old, on a first glimpse of Manhattan, 6AM, from the taxi riding into town said “I feel like I’m in a movie”, which became this vacation’s slogan.

We had the privilege to celebrate Rosh HaShana, the Jewish New Year, twice – once at my brother’s apartment in Manhattan, and on the following night with their kind friends at their apartment not far from there. People tourism is the best type of tourism. The kind that fills you with real excitement or revelations. And having that privilege of being invited to join a festive meal with people we met for the first time was moving. Thanks Dara and Seth Kessler. More to follow.

Rosh HaShana Desert

School Year, Fall 2011

This September is very eventful. The ongoing social demonstrations and protests across the country continue. The school year opened. The Palestinians intend to declare their independent state. A game, from Israel, “Shaker” won Techcrunch Distrupt in San Francisco. Saveby has launched and running a successful alpha version. And by the end of the month we, that is myself, hubby and kids, are on our way to a first ever family vacation in the US.

There were so many topics to write about, I just kept starting and never got to finish any of my posts.

New School Year
My eldest daughter has started her last year of high school. All education revolutions we are talking about for the past 3-4 years will have no effect on her. I just hope some changes will happen before her future born kids will begin their own schooling.

My son started 8th grade, which is the last year of elementary school here; next year he is starting high school. This year he will choose a high school, and hopefully will be accepted into any program he chooses. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about? Opening as many options to our kids? This year is so crucial that we have jointly decided to give Ritalin a chance. A bit sad, in my view, that a child needs to be sedated in order to make it through a school year. But the effort to keep up without it has become a real burden. Grades are just too important this year.

My youngest joined a new school this year. For him we chose a Waldorf Education  school, fortunately not too far from home. He is still hanging to his skepticism about “any school ever fitting” his state of mind regarding education.

Shaking Disrupt
I was very excited at the winning of Shaker at the Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Not only because it’s one more representation of the startup nation, coming from Israel, but because it is a game.

The gaming (not to be confused with gambling) industry is moving forward big time. From the launch of Maple Story, to the launch of Q2L, a public middle school in NYC dedicated to games and game development, and now the winning at Techcrunch of an entertainment feature. Not technical, not tool, not another commercial innovation – all those are great, and fantastic, and every new idea is exciting, but the winning of this game puts another crown on the head of this industry. “People want to have fun”, I told a colleague who was wondering about this choice. “And it’s time we acknowledge this need across the board. From the obvious social networking, to other aspects of life, like education systems (yes, that again) and you know what? even health systems. We Want Fun!!”.

Shaker holds a tremendous promise and great potential for many other industries, way beyond Facebook. I really hope I get to meet with these guys soon and share some thoughts with them. Congratulation Ofer Rundstein, Yonatan Maor and Gad Maor.

Saveby a Totally Different Way
Saveby is my own startup, on which I am slaving for the past year with my co-founder, Yoav Perry. After a lot of research and development we released our alpha version and sent out alpha codes to willing participants across the US.

Saveby is the self-service group-shopping platform where parents from across the web -who are interested in the same product, band together to get it at group discount. Merchants accept these group offers to get volume sales.

Saveby is NOT another daily coupon, local deal or private sales site. It is not a middleman, haggler or merchant. It is simply a platform where parents can form or join group offers for the things they want -and have quality merchants accept their offer. Saveby is free to use. Payments are processed securely with PayPal. We really aim to disrupt current ecommerce by finding a real way to restore the power of the masses, the shoppers, to their hands.

Merchants are only happy to participate: “it’s our turn to sit back and relax and get best deals offered into our inboxes”. So this can really be the breakthrough ecommerce needs now. If you want an alpha invite too – let me know.

Launching the alpha isn’t a simple task. And it is especially complicated when half of the company isn’t located where the market it. But that’s how things are at the moment, while we’re still bootstrapping.

The idea about an “alpha” stage is that it isn’t perfect. Our alpha testers are people who have agreed to help us make the suit fit better. They take the time to share their feedback with us, make suggestions, try it and of course – tell others about it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some alpha participants for taking the time to go over the system with us: Josh Becker @DadStreet, Jim Turner @genuine, Amit Knaani @amitos from Vikido and BabyFirstTV, Aparna Vashisht-Rota @parentella and many more. I hope to meet face to face with some of my favorite parent bloggers during my visit to the US (starting next week) and introduce the system to more alpha testers. Next stage will take us to a full commercial testing.

A First Ever US Family Vacation
Vacation? Now?? Indeed this sounds strange. Who has the time to take a vacation during an startup launch?? Well, apparently we do. Even startup founders need to take some time to breathe and relax and renew. My kids and hubby deserve some quality mom time. Of course this cost mom a lot of hours in planning, reserving, ordering, arranging (getting a house sitter…)… And did I mention I intend to use some NY time to meet with my favorite business and blogging connections face to face? Let me know if you want in my schedule, between a sea of museums my kids (yes, it is them) insist on visiting. Oh, and recommendations are welcome.

Building a Community of Responsible Parents

It’s an endless effort, building a community. I’ve been at it for months now. Bootstrapping our startup, Saveby, means it’s up to us, two founders, to fulfill at least 6 positions in it. If that sounds difficult consider the fact those two founders are at two different time zones, 7 hours apart. We do our best to divide responsibility, and sometimes we get help from our good friends and excellent connections. Still, launching a public alpha is not all excitement. It’s stress too.

Saveby is a self service group shopping platform. It enables consumers to create or join their own dream deals. Who deserves this service more than parents, embarking on the new parenting shopping cart for the first time?? Or the second… or third… That’s why we decided to launch our service to parents, in the US, who are hoping to get the best baby gear for their kids and still maintain a solid college fund. How about that?

Most of our efforts nowadays are dedicate to establishing communications with such parents throughout the US. We discover meetup groups, forums, blogs. But mostly we discover people and that makes our work so much more interesting and fun.

If you are a parent and you want access to our alpha stage, please comment below and don’t forget to include your real email (it’s never public). We’ll get personally in touch.
To further support us – follow our twitter, like our facebook and you can join the new “Saveby for Parents” group on Facebook too.

Startup life: It’s a family effort

One month into the summer vacation and the kids are pretty busy. They keep themselves occupied, they don’t get bored, and they seem to be really happy with their freedom. I get to see them during meal times mostly. They don’t complain, yet I can’t escape the guilty feeling that’s creeping on me: What a terrible mom, not dedicating quality time to my kids during their summer vacation.

At the height of it, when I finally decided to take an hour off emailing and social networking to play a board game with my 9 year old son, he accepted me with a hug. Enhancing that guilty feeling.

But they know, and I even heard them explain it to their friends, that their mom is working, working really hard, working a lot. Sure, mom is at home, but mom is in her study, and shouldn’t be disturbed.

So it’s not only me paying the high price of a startup set up. Not that I ever believed it was only me. I can safely say that I am lucky my family accepts my crazy work hours and supports the startup effort.

Commit To Your Students’ Success, Please!

“We’re committed to the rules and regulation”, said my son’s teacher to me, as she’s trying to explain why the school wouldn’t let a 7th grader attempt a specific test one more time.
“No”, I said, “You are committed to your students’ success”.

This, apparently was not clear. “There are guidelines we must follow”, she tried again.

“The only guideline is your students’ success”, I repeated. “If a kid gets 95 and 88 and 87 in some tests, and then 35 in one other test, you should let him retake that test until he is content with his achievement. You can’t just leave him with the 35 because some city clerk wrote a rule saying ‘be tough on the kids and don’t let them repeat the tests’..”.

At that point I was advised to perform a 3,000 shekels total evaluation of his learning difficulties. Yea, one of “the rules” is to abide by recommendations produced by such a diagnosis.

Don’t get me even started on what happens to those students who cannot afford such an expensive diagnosis. Just a quick reminder: Almost all students in Israel go to public schools and the law states students’ right to get free education for all. We already know it’s not free – with hundreds of shekels spent on books and booklets. But a law that requires parents to spend huge amounts on a private psycho-educational evaluation is just crazy, not to mention unfair.

People in Israel talk a lot about gaps breaking the society. It’s a small country. We’re only 7.7 million people. There are less than 900,000 students in grades 1-6, and about 600,000 in grades 7-12. That’s all. You’ll be correct to ask yourself how big a gap can occur within such a small country.

And I’m just left with the echo of my conversation. How can teachers feel more committed to the system’s rules then their students’ success?

What if a heavenly teacher doesn’t really have wings?

I’ve been pouring my aching heart over failing teachers and education systems here for the past 3 years at least. Recently I came across an amazing story, of a heavenly teacher.

She’s the teacher I would have dreamed of getting for my little boy. A dream come true. She’s kind, warm, and serene. She speaks calmly, never raises her voice. She leads the kids into learning, developing their curiosity. Makes them ask for more. Gives them a feeling the classroom is a safe harbor. Yet with all this her boundaries are crystal clear. They know they have to prepare their homework. They understand how to behave in the classroom. They know they have to respect each other in and out of the classroom, and that some games will be frowned upon. They know the right and wrong. And they are only on 3rd grade.

One day the teacher came to the school management with an announcement. She told them that she has developed friendship with one of the single parents in the classroom. “Over the past year”, she confessed, “it became evident that this is more than just friendship. This is love. We do not plan to move in together right now or become full partners, but I thought you should know”.

After about 3 weeks or less of pondering the school has decided the teacher should not continue to teach this class. In spite of the special relationships that have developed between the kids and the teacher, and even though they realized she’s the perfect teacher for this class and despite the fact that in this school it is customary that the teacher remains with her class till 8th grade – all this made no difference. In fact, the only reason the teacher wasn’t let go altogether was, perhaps, the fact that she is – really – a great teacher.

I am not school management, but I am an experience mother: Very experienced into education systems. I have seen teachers discriminate between students with no reason at all. I have seen teachers teaching relatives with no favoritism at all. I have never seen such a good teacher (except for maybe my daughter’s retired teacher from 2nd grade). I can’t help thinking; Did the school management really weigh the gain vs. the loss here? Or was it simply the easy way out of potential-maybe-someday headache? What do you think??

Newly Named Disease: Schoolitis

My daughter got it. It took me a while to define it as an illness. But it is. And bit by bit I am discovering more and more kids who have this disease to various extents.

Over the past two years plus my daughter got sick a lot of times. Really sick. Dark circles under her eyes, running nose, nausea, stomach aches, dizziness, weakness, sleep disorders, lack of appetite, headaches. We went to the doctors. Ran the blood tests. Nothing pointed anywhere. When the first long vacation of the school year came, and all symptoms disappeared I got the first hint. It all came back with school, and disappeared again with the next vacation.

We sat down and had a long analytical discussion. Now, I am not a doctor, nor a psychologist. I am a mother. A very attentive mother. And I decided I need to get to the bottom of this.

The background is also relevant: my daughter is highly gifted. From the time she joined the special class for the gifted on 3rd grade, till the time she left this class and went to high school, on the 9th grade, she never wanted to miss a day at school. She loves learning and does a lot of learning by herself. Her grades have always been perfect. Even now, with the Disease, she is a straight A student.

But now she hates school. In that eye-opening conversation she confessed that her main problem with school is that “school is preventing and delaying learning”. In those words. Being a mother of gifted kids that’s a startling truth to hear.

But even if they weren’t gifted… I mean, if this is the way a gifted student is feeling, then those who don’t share such a motivation for learning must be feeling even worse, don’t they??

A little asking around confirmed that high-school-frustration manifests in various physical ways – similar to what my daughter has been experiencing over the past two years plus.

Like other diseases there are several ways to prevent and to treat it. Unfortunately, prevention demands a deep reform into the education system. Treatment – well, the only thing left to do is to let her go. Skip school as much as she needs to in order to feel better. But that could work with kids who can learn by themselves. I am at loss when it comes to kids who really need the classroom and the learning enabler. This is taken back to ed-reform table.

But one thing I do wish: I wish that parents all over would realize that this is real. A real disease. It’s not laziness or some other form of “I want to skip school” naughtiness. This is a real illness and please treat your kids-with-Schoolitis exactly the same way you would care for them when they have the flue or even Angina.

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