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The NS/WAS Primary School in its Twenty Third Year

Friday 24 November 2006, by Bob Mark

The new school year is underway, bringing with it new hopes and new challenges. On the first day of school the sixth grade children took responsibility for a wonderful opening ceremony in which they officially received the new first grade class. There was music followed by opening words from the sixth graders and from the principal, Faiz Mansour. Finally the first graders introduced themselves to us one by one while making a lively little march across the “stage”. Also speaking at the opening ceremony was Dr. Ora Mor, the head of the bilingual education program of the Jewish – Arab Center in the Haifa University. Her visit officially opened a new chapter of relations between the Center and the NS/WAS Primary School.

Last year Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam made a controversial and somewhat risky decision to change the official state status of the school and return it to its previous status as a "recognized" school . We originally adopted the status of a state ("official") school in 2000, under the more supportive Education Ministry of Yossi Sarid from the Meretz party. At that time we were assured that the school would enjoy all of the autonomy that we would need in order to develop our bilingual program and work towards a more critical understanding of our social reality. In subsequent years, under the Education Ministry of Likud’s Limor Livnat, we discovered that we cannot count on such promises. The Ministry’s intervention in our priorities was unprecedented and the school’s decisions were not respected. This led us to request a return to the previous independent status of the school. This status will still entitle the school to a degree of state financial support and it will ensure autonomy in all of our essential decision-making processes. We should however add that we are still in a transition stage. Funding as a state school has ended and while we hold official letters agreeing to the change in status, we are still waiting for a signature or two to finalize the change and to renew state funding.

The time and energy spent in issues around the Ministry of Education may have come at the expense of our educational work over recent years. One of the changes that we introduced this year is to turn to a more conventional management structure. In order to establish clearer responsibility in implementing decisions, we abandoned the structure of two co-principals jointly directing the school. We sought an experienced bilingual school principal, and after a long process interviewing many candidates we requested that Faiz Mansour remain with the school for an additional term, but this time as the sole principal. Additionally we chose one Jewish pedagogical coordinator – Ety Edlund - and one Arab pedagogical coordinator - Rim Nashef. Ety and Rim work with Faiz to form the school management. This structure continues to ensure Jewish – Arab representation within the management. Naturally they also consult with a number of other forums within the teaching staff.

We have also introduced a major change regarding the NS/WAS Junior High School. We opened the junior high school four years ago as a separate school with a separate management. This year the seventh and eighth grade classes have been put under the management of the primary school, with all of the teachers working as a single staff. Towards the end of this year we will decide whether we should continue to conduct classes beyond sixth grade or whether we should close the seventh and eighth grade classes until we can create conditions that will answer the educational and social needs of this age group.

All of these changes seem to have brought fresh energy to the school community and we are happy to report that there are plenty of signs of encouragement. A major source of encouragement is the enrollment in first grade. Twenty eight children, twelve Arab and sixteen Jewish, make up the new first grade. It is a larger enrollment than we have had for several years. We are particularly pleased to see the return of families from nearby Karmei Yosef, and, for the first time, we received a family from neighboring Kibbutz Nachshon. Strengthening our reputation within our immediate region is of particular importance if we are to build a tight school community, not to mention the benefit of making our transportation expenses more cost-effective.

There is a total of 146 children in the school this year. Each class has its own story and the proportion of Jews to Arabs can change radically from class to class. We know that the alternative schools open to the Jewish families are more attractive than those open to the Arab families, so we find that during periods of difficulty the Jewish families will usually be quicker than Arab families to pull their children out of the school. Sometimes when one or two Jewish families from a particular class choose to leave the school their decision will start a chain reaction that will pull other Jewish families from the same class behind them. For instance in the third grade there are 13 Arab and five Jewish children and in fourth grade there are 15 Arab and three Jewish children. The other primary school classes remain fairly evenly divided between Jews and Arabs. Of course friendships cross lines between the Jewish and Arab children, otherwise there would not be much point in doing the work that we are doing. But it is also important that each child has a significant peer group sharing a mother language and sharing other influences that they bring from home.

This year the homeroom teachers of each grade level have taken it upon themselves to create a variety of activities aimed at enhancing the social atmosphere of each class. These activities range from in-class workshops on communication skills to a series of after- school activities such as organized class visits to each child’s home. For most of the school children, the Jewish - Arab encounter is not a natural thing that they experience at home. We have found that it is often very helpful when teachers and parents take the initiative to promote social activities that strengthen the connection between the children.

In the coming year we will invest more energy in the study of crucial aspects of our educational program. Working with Dr. Ora Mor we have begun to reexamine the school’s bilingual educational approach and are attempting to put more structures into place that will strengthen the role of Arabic in the day-to-day life of the school. We have recently begun discussing with the School for Peace possibilities for renewing their work with the school staff on issues of teachers’ identity and on dynamics of Jewish – Arab relations. Ideas are brewing on how the NS/WAS Primary School and School for Peace may ultimately use this learning process in order to cooperate in conducting courses for teaching staffs of unintentionally mixed schools, for example in mixed towns where many Jewish schools have a significant number of Arab pupils. We will keep you informed as plans develop.

We would like to welcome to the staff a few new teachers who enrich us all with new outlooks and skills. Adoreh el-’Iss from Abu Ghosh serves both as the school’s new educational supervisor as well as being the Arab homeroom teacher of second grade (there is one Jewish and one Arab homeroom teacher in each grade). Raphael Kardoni, trained in anthroposophic education, joins us as the Jewish homeroom teacher for the first grade. We also welcome Ronit Kourtler, the Jewish homeroom teacher for the fourth grade. Ronit, whose parents came from Egypt, brings with her a passive understanding of Arabic from home and is now working to gain fluency. Finally we welcome back Raida Hatib, who has returned after spending a year in Tanzania. Raida is this year’s Arab homeroom teacher for the fourth grade, working in partnership with Ronit. The remaining staff members will be familiar names to those who have been following the school. We hope that we can look forward to an enjoyable year of cooperation and growth for all of us.

In closing we would like to thank Aisheh Najjar who has chosen to move on to work outside of the village. Aisheh has made a place in local history as one of the two co-founders of our Jewish – Arab nursery and kindergarten, the first one in Israel. Working in the kindergarten since 1980 ’Aishe has been a significant educational figure for every child who has been brought up in the village until today. No words can express our appreciation for her time and dedication. We also want to thank Anwar Dawod for his years of work with the school, and for his key role over the past three years in establishing and directing the NS/WAS Junior High School. Anwar is now pursuing other directions in life and we wish him success. And finally we thank Dyana Shaloufi – Rizek for years of work in the primary school and more recently in the junior high school. Dyana has also chosen to devote her time to other directions.

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First graders on their first day

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