This afternoon, I was fortunate to be invited for a visit to Kiev's ORT School.
World ORT is well known for providing high quality Jewish education and vocational training throughout the world, serving over 300,000 students in 37 countries, and the ORT School in Kiev is a prime example of ORT doing what it does best.
I was amazed to find a thriving school of over 1,000 students between grades 1 and 11 (with 11th grade, currently, being the highest grade in Ukrainian schools, although that is apparently set to change soon), and 1,200 students if the kindergarten is included in the totals.
While the school's curriculum includes Hebrew, Jewish studies, and Israeli history, I was fascinated to see a school where all students are required to learn three langauges - Ukrainian, Hebrew, and English, and where the core subjects include cutting edge vocational skills ranging from robotics to sustainable landscape design.
Even in some of the youngest classes, students spoke to me in beautiful English, with big smiles on their faces.
The Kiev ORT School robotics class participates in an annual competition at the Technion in Haifa, for which I was proudly shown a shelf full of trophies.
And the students seemed happy to be there. It was an interesting contrast to be nearly bowled over on countless occassions by young people running wildly through the halls from class to class and then to see the discipline as I walked into classrooms with the principal and every student immediately rose to attention.
It was almost an afterthought question when I asked "And all the students are Jewish, right?"
The answer was "no." As a public school in the Ukrainian school system, the ORT School is offered free-of-charge for all families, with slots awarded through a lottery system. And, although the curriculum includes Hebrew and Jewish studies, the school has such an outstanding reputation that 20% of its student population isn't Jewish.