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A Holiday on the Opening of the 2007-08 School Year at the Neve Shalom - Wahat al Salam Primary School

Wednesday 12 September 2007

I describe this event as a holiday, rather than using some other word because there was so much happiness evident – happiness, excitement, and tears.

I remember few events during my adult years that had the power to really move me and without a doubt, one of them was the day my eldest son began first grade. This feeling does not lessen with the second or third or even fourth child (when there is one). Each child’s excitement of their first day; each one’s special circumstances, with the power to move us deeply once again. This excitement is intensified when we make unusual choices for our own lives and the lives of our children. That is the situation when you choose to send your daughter or son to the Primary School at Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam. The decision to send your child to NS-WAS is an acute departure from the routine, from the familiar and the safe. As another school year gets underway in Israel, like every year, there are discordant notes, there are problems, there is the threat of another teachers’ strike. In the end this year, everyone went to school as scheduled - first the Arab high schools on September 1st (which fell on a Saturday) because Saturday is a school day in Arab secondary schools; and then the rest followed on Sunday, September 2nd.

At one particular school, however, the situation is different than at all the rest – and that one is the Primary School of Wahat al-Salam - Neve Shalom.

The first binational, bilingual, multicultural school in Israel opens its doors for the 24th year in a row this fall. Theoretically, this is just another school year, just another entering class. Only when we scrutinize the challenges and difficulties that the school confronts every year, do we understand what a significant moment this is. Some of us who deal with this subject on an everyday basis have become inured to a degree and do not take notice of its importance any more. Periodically, we have to stop, stand back and take a good look – to make sure that we appreciate the significance of witnessing Jewish and Arab children going to the same school together, learning in the same classroom, using both their languages and being taught by both Arab and Jewish teachers.

The opening of a new school year at NS-WAS is another reminder that this is not routine, but is rather extraordinary. It involves challenges posed by the external status quo. A departure from a routine of complete segregation between Arab education and Jewish education demands tremendous persistence merely in order to open the school once again each autumn. We open with awareness of the fact that the Ministry of Education has yet to grant official recognition to our educational model as legitimate and sustainable despite the recent opening of four new bilingual schools based primarily on our model. Parents need a lot of courage in order to send their child to a school in which sufficient funding is dependent on foreign donors - a school whose existence is imperiled each year by ever-greater cutbacks by the Ministry of Education; even whilst it is educating all other children in the country. State funding for the Primary School of NS-WAS is negligible at best. But the parents continue to send their children anyway because of the unique experience they receive.

Celebrating the first day

The school held a festive reception in order to welcome the first-grade children as newcomers to the new system. The massive presence of camera-laden, visibly excited parents, happy and ready to party, was hard to miss. Every mom and dad was excited because their child was entering first grade, with tears in their eyes because they had chosen for their child something that their own parents had not been able to give them. This is cause for celebration and explains how the tradition of a reception for the new students (and their parents) originally developed.

Children, moms, dads, teachers and principals, joined village residents and international journalists who came to observe this exciting event. A procession of sixth-graders, the senior students in the school, went one by one to the microphone and welcomed the newcomers. The 6th graders wished the new students, calling each 1st graders name, to have a smooth transition and a fruitful year of learning, fun and new friendships. The highlight of the night was when a girl from the sixth grade took the microphone to welcome her little brother into the first grade and walked alongside him for a minute.

Then the senior students gave the younger ones balloons with each of their names inscribed and walked with them to their seats at the school’s entrance. The sixth-grade children will continue to be of assistance to the 1st graders for the remainder of the school year, especially in the framework of the recently inaugurated Mentor Program.

At the end of the celebration, the newly-appointed principal, the representatives of the educational institutions of NS-WAS and representatives of the Parents Committee concluded by welcoming the students and wished them the best of luck for the upcoming school year. There was a special greeting from our Friends’ Associations of Neve Shalom - Wahat al Salam from around the world, who passed along to all past and present students, parents, principals, teachers, and other school staff. This message was passed along by the Communications & Development staff in the village. The C & D staff also praised the school because of the financially difficult times they face last year because the Ministry of Education provided no assistance for the school. Even so, with the help and commitment of the Friends Associations, we were able to finish out the school year smoothly.

New equipment, labs, and more

With the start of the new school year, also came numerous innovations and improvements. This year, 170 students will be enrolled in the Neve Shalom - Wahat al Salam educational system (primary school and early education), of whom about one in five are from families residing in the village, with the remainder coming from surrounding communities. We begin the year with a new principal, Mr. Anwar Dawod, who will work with an administrative and teaching team of 30 (full-time and part-time) professionals, the vast majority of whom are veteran members of the staff.

Over the summer, we succeeded in equipping the school’s Information Resource Center with new top-of-the-line computers. We renovated our classrooms and common areas that were in need of sprucing up. We dedicated and remodeled a room for the new Zoo Lab and are now awaiting donors to help equip it. We are also engaged in acquiring equipment for the new Science Lab. We will be preparing periodic reports throughout the school year detailing what the children are learning and doing in the classroom.

By Ahmad Hijazi (translation by Deb Reich)

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