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Update on the Primary School

Friday 22 May 2009

Since the WAS-NS Primary School opened for the current scholastic year, it has had to contend with a series of external crises. The world economic climate has been the worst in decades. Relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel have been undermined by the war in Gaza. And finally, Israeli politics have shifted sharply to the right. This report describes how the School has been meeting these challenges while chalking up successes.

Special subjects

Environmental studies

The School prides itself on a variety of special subjects which are absent from many local schools. This year we have been developing environmental awareness among the students. Besides the already existing green house and zoo lab, we have given attention to the subject of recycling. A teacher with expertise in producing art from garbage and materials that would normally be thrown away, has been central to this effort. The highlight came recently with a whole-school event, which brought pupils, parents and teachers together for an exhibition of work produced by the children and activity sessions, all around the subject of environmental awareness. See the article on this, with accompanying slide show and video clip, and the profile of the recycling teacher and her subject, which appears in a separate report.

The School is attempting to secure formal recognition as an environmentally aware school, and has made a number of steps in this direction. One of the requirements is to adopt another school and help it to move in the same direction. As such, the School has entered into a relationship with the El Manar (Arab) School in the town of Ramle. Teachers and students from the school were invited to the mentioned

Zoo Lab project

The Zoo lab is a well-loved corner of the School, and is stocked with small animals, reptiles and birds. It is visited by all the students, and is a natural enrichment for environmental and science classes. We would like to extend the Zoo Lab, as soon as an adjoining room becomes free.

Some subjects for which we were able to give attention in previous years, have suffered due to the budget cuts of Israel’s Education Ministry. The Ministry recently decided that it would be cutting enrichment programmes that were previously conducted with the participation of the Karev Foundation. The budget cuts affect schools in our category (Recognized, Independent Schools). One example of an affected project is the archaeological work that was conducted in recent years. We are currently negotiating with the Karev Foundation in the attempt to restore some of this funding.

Language Lab

The language lab, which was developed in earlier years together with an expert from the Hebrew University, is being used for children from kindergarten to third grade. Each class spends one weekly session there. We would like to extend also to older children, but in order to do so, we need to renew some of the teaching materials and equipment there.

Computer Classes

Computers are used by the children both in the framework of a dedicated weekly class and in the framework of individual subjects. The students learn how to use word-processors, spreadsheets presentation software and drawing programmes and learn to use the internet in order to do research for their subject material. There is a constant need to upgrade computer equipment due to natural wear and tear and aging of the equipment. Currently we need another four computers.

Curriculum Development and Teacher Training

The School is continuing with its programme of Curriculum Development throughout the School Year. Funding this year has come from the Annenberg Foundation in the USA and from a Swiss bequest. The major project of this year will be during the summer break. The teachers will be developing curricula for two key subjects:

  1. The teaching of Arabic for 1st to 3rd grade levels. Since in Jewish Israeli schools Arabic is studied later, there are no adequate resources to teach Arabic as a second language to Jewish children. At our school, we found it necessary to use textbooks designed for much older children. So we wish to design a curriculum, with workbooks, intended for much younger children.
  1. Civic and social education: Creating a curricula for civics education for Jewish and Arab children in a binational and multicultural school environment, with emphasis on giving the children a developed social consciousness and equal participation in the democratic functions of the school.

Cooperation with Hand in Hand schools

Since Hand in Hand, the Association for Bilingual Education has itself been doing some work on curriculum development, we have discussed with the association possibilities for working together on this. On May 31 we will be partners with them in a conference entitled “Bilingualism and Multiculturalism in Early Childhood Education” to be conducted at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. In addition, we are discussing with them a workshop for teachers to be held in the coming months.

Teacher Training

Closely linked with our Curriculum Development project is the need to invest in in-service training for teachers, particularly in areas that are unique to binational schooling. Recently we conducted a four-day workshop for the teachers, facilitated by the School for Peace, on the subject of treatment of Israel’s national days. We are continuing with a series of afternoon and Friday morning seminars on various topics.

Relations with Parents

Any school consists of a community of not only students and teachers, but also parents. This has special meaning in the case of a multicultural school, since it provides opportunities for a cultural encounter that extends beyond the school itself and has an influence upon the geographical catchment area of the school.

Because there exists a situation of conflict between the two population groups represented at the school, conditions that exacerbate the ongoing relationship between the two groups are registered among parents in the form of anxiety about their children’s welfare. Needless to say, such anxiety is not evident among the children themselves, who relate to each other in a very normal way.

The current calendar year began with Israel’s Gaza incursion which, in general, further strained relations between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. Perhaps fortunately, during the first days of the violence, children were at home for their winter break. However a meeting of the parents committee was characterized by an inability of Jewish and Arab parents to understand their different viewpoints on the events in Gaza and southern Israel.

Now, after allowing a suitable period for emotions to cool, we are planning to conduct an encounter between Arab and Jewish parents, with the facilitation of the School for Peace. The meeting is set to take place June 13.

Despite any anxieties provoked by the external situation, parents are showing great satisfaction with the School. This has been expressed in proposals by parents to volunteer their time and help with teaching. They are also promoting the School in their local communities. In the past, it was necessary for the staff to dedicate time to promoting the school, but now its good reputation is doing this work for us. As a result, we have a higher number of applications for next year than we can handle. Out of 90 registrations, we will be able to take only about half.

Relations with the State

In the past year Israel’s Ministry of Education has made a number of budget cuts and is threatening more serious cuts in the future (see Education minister: Budget cuts drag Israel closer to bottom , Haaretz, May 7, 2009). If the budget currently being debated goes through, there are plans to lay off 5,300 teachers. We do not know how this might affect our school, but recent cuts have particularly affected schools in our category (recognized independent schools). We are also struggling to receive allocations that are due to us, such as the Ministry’s stipend for transportation of students. Notwithstanding previous practices and agreements, the Ministry is now claiming that transportation should only be paid to religious schools in our school category. We have held a number of meetings with officials in order to try to resolve the dispute, but so far without success.

In addition to the financial challenges mentioned above, we can expect ideological challenges due to the recent political shift to the right. Gideon Saar (Likud) is the new education minister. His first declared decision on taking office was to reinstate compulsory Jewish heritage studies in the national school curriculum and the second was to place on hold a plan to foster coexistence and tolerance among Jewish and Arab school children (see link to Jerusalem Post article). We have asked for a meeting to clarify the Ministry’s positions.

One positive piece of news is that the kindergarten was granted status as a “recognized independent kindergarten” (a similar status to that of the primary school. We are awaiting additional bureaucracy before qualifying for support for transportation of pupils.

School Transportation

As mentioned, the Education Ministry continues to refuse to pay its share in transportation of students. We still receive the discount on transportation expenses that comes as a result of our agreement with the Regional Council (loan of buses to the council in exchange for transportation services). We calculate the value to the School in the next school budget as NIS 900,000, which is calculated on the basis of 180 places on the buses loaned to the Council. If, as anticipated, there will be a rise in the number of students at the school next year, there will be a gap between the number of available places and the number of places required.

Equalizing Arabic and Hebrew

As in the past the disparate use of Arabic and Hebrew at the School remains a serious challenge. This year, as a result of necessary budget cuts we were unable to give sufficient attention to strengthening the Arabic level of the Jewish teachers. However, we have made some progress with our working methods at lower grade levels. This has come as a result of teaching Arabic to all of the children together. Currently our language counselor, Dr. Ora Mor from the University of Haifa is checking the results of this approach.

Outlook for the 2009 – 2010 School Year

We can look forward to a school of 200 children in nine classes (at certain grade levels there will be more than one class), with good numerical parity between the Jewish and Arab pupils. There will be 30 children in the kindergarten with a larger number of Jewish students (in recent years there has been a wide disparity and a large Arab majority at the kindergarten). There will be an additional 16 children in the pre-kindergarten and 8 candidates for the nursery.

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