For 25 years, I have sought an elusive magic wand that would transform education, building deep bridges to the world beyond school doors. From day one, it has often felt like a quest beyond the reach of schools everywhere…two steps forward and three steps back. Pockets of innovation burn, simmer, and fade…only to be discussed again as new initiatives a few years later. In all of it, I have never lost passion or hope in the full knowledge that there is no better place to be than where I have settled…but I can still dream.
When I arrived at Yemin Orde Village, there was an immediate sense of excitement as I watched the teenagers walking to lunch while laughing, taking selfies, and engaging in a bit of bantering. While in some ways, it felt like my junior high, there was an amplified sense of urgency and connectedness that comes from serving groups of at-risk teenagers who live and learn together. Initially, I was happy to share craft supplies collected by my students with their team, but during the visit, I learned so much more about this wonderful learning space. Yemin Orde is more than a school – it is a village that provides a safe haven that teaches youth the power of personal development that encourages global leadership.
During my visit, Racheli and Lisa provided a tour that inspired my teaching goals and supported my belief that best practices do not stem from a nationally-based curriculum or assessments that require quantity over depth.
As I have been traveling to learn more about mental health outreach programs, I recognize that providing a sense of belonging is just as important as the work needed to repair the heart and aspire toward goals for the future.
Yemin Orde masterfully integrates mental health support within their academic and social goals through ten core components that make them a giant in prioritizing leaders of tomorrow and innovation. According to this website, a successful Village Way educational community must integrate each of the methodology’s 10 core components into its work including:
Anchors in the Past: Recognizing and strengthening positive personal narratives, empowering communal history, and honoring cultural traditions;
Anchors in the Future: Designing a plan for the future and encouraging youth to change present actions accordingly, teaching valuable life skills, providing support for graduates and letting youth know that the community will serve as their safety net;
Earth (the physical environment): Creating an aesthetically pleasing home-like atmosphere, using the physical environment to convey lessons and communal values;
Sky (the spiritual environment): Reinforcing communal values and national belonging, finding meaning in tradition and holidays, promoting moral judgment;
Tikkun Halev (repairing the heart): Providing diverse opportunities for success in academic and extracurricular activities, providing programs for emotional healing, and using setbacks and crises as an opportunity for growth and learning;
Tikkun Olam (repairing the world): Participating in community service to empower youth through helping others and serving a valued role in the wider community, promoting a sense of responsibility to service, opening up the wider world to the child;
Reliable Representations of Parental Wholeness: Placing every educator in the role of a meaningful adult in children’s lives, involving parents in community, empowering parents in the eyes of their children and the children in the eyes of their parents;
Community of Meaning: Crafting a sense of belonging to and pride in a supportive community with common values and spreading values beyond the community’s borders;
Dialogue: Opening up understanding, respectful dialogue between adult and youth, aimed at promoting the youth’s progress, without blurring the role of the responsible adult;
Minimizing institutional characteristics: Building a living community that goes beyond the bureaucratic aspects of institutional life, on the physical and interpersonal levels.
As I read these principles, they are not just how I want to teach, they are descriptors for the kind of person I want to be and the kind of life I want to live.
Yemin Orde team members – all of them – including maintenance, secretarial staff, food services, etc. and called to exemplify core values centered on respect of the youth they encounter each day. Everyone on staff is trained and empowered to be advocates for the children with the expectation that everyone is part of a solution.
Students are taught that they are not defined by their past, and they can rewrite personal narratives to highlight what makes them proud. Reflecting upon their unique backgrounds and cultural heritage helps to repair their hearts from angers in the past.
In an effort to reinforce that the youth are not victims but part of solutions, serving others is expected in some capacity as a volunteer. Outreach and service aim to empower kids by showing that they are not needy, but needed.
Walking through Yemin Orde Children’s Village is exciting because there is something interesting around every turn. As students crossed our path, Racheli was visibly excited to see them and share their individual talents and contributions to the student body. The Eco Farm was a favorite spot to visit with chickens, goats, and student-designed spaces for hanging out. The wood shop offered a necessary space where students create items needed throughout the village.
Through active learning, with real-life applications, students learn that they are worthy enough to invest in themselves…not by saying it, but through their actions. Yemin Orde demands that everyone expects enough from students and that they are not prone to reducing expectations because they feel sorry for the challenges they have encountered. This is seen as one of the miracle corners of the world where students are nurtured, but also challenged to defy all limitations and expectations perceived by others.
Thank you to Adina and the Yemin Orde team for sharing your space with me. If you are interested in learning more about Yemin Orde, this webpage is a helpful starting place. I am particularly interested in determining ways to include their academic research and progressive programs into my plans when returning to school. Innovation is complex – but can be done with minds and hearts focused the core components of growth.