Haifa’s educational institutions propagate sustainability, leadership, culture, and integration.
Medusology is a hot item in Haifa’s educational system’s Department of Social and Ethical Education. But wait… medusology?! Ronit Gavrieli, the department’s deputy manager, explains: “Essentially we are talking about marine sustainability. We used the jellyfish as a model-a sea creature that can cause harm, but on the other hand has its benefits and contributes to the ecologic balance.
“Being a coastal town, Haifa is a great place for students to get better connected to the sea environment and its laws, to learn how to protect it, and in the meantime enjoy professional guidance—this year from the Council for a Beautiful Israel—about various subjects, including theoretical lessons, and tours along the beaches. Also included are activities such as water quality tests, and an introduction to the variety of the sea’s flora and fauna.
“The children who take part in this are ninth graders from Jewish and Arab schools. At the conclusion of the educational process we hold an annual conference attended by delegations from abroad, mainly from twin cities. Sustainability is a worldwide problem, and it’s important to us that our youths will discuss it with people their age from other countries, and exchange information with them about subjects such as drifting sands, ballast water, invading species, and pollution reduction etcetera. We stay in contact with communities around the world, and share knowledge with them, in a hope for a better and more sustainable future.”
Diller Teen Fellows is a leadership program involving Jewish 10th and 11th graders from the U.S., Canada, South Africa, Australia, and Israel. Nitzan Natan, the program’s coordinator in Haifa, hails from Kiryat Shmona: “In Israel, the program began its way in the Galilee Panhandle, and I was involved at the time. Years later, when I heard they were searching for a coordinator in Haifa, being well-acquainted with the program and an ex-fellow, I was the first to apply.
“We work with a parallel group from Boston. The main event, Community Week, takes place in July; we host the Boston group and conduct a self-designed seminar managed by the fellows and wholly dedicated to the community. This is the culmination of a year-long activity; we work from October to October. There are twenty selected students in the group, from various schools in the city, and there are 13 such groups in the country, each working with a group from a respective twin city.
“This year the seminar will take place on 11-18 of July, so we are currently very busy finalizing and approving the layout. The subjects vary slightly from year to year, but each day of the seminar deals with topics such as multiculturalism, coexistence, social justice, Haifa, the IDF, science and entrepreneurship. It’s great to see a bunch of youngsters who chose to focus on ideological and educational subjects.”
Shlomi Dahan, principal of Ironi Hey high school, was approached six years ago and was asked to arrange a group of 5-6 pupils who will represent Haifa in an annual youth convention that Shanghai initiated a decade ago. “Before I adopted the project, pupils from various schools in Haifa were sent to Shanghai, but it proved difficult to amalgamate people from different social circles. Once the delegation was composed of pupils from one school only, it became much easier.
“Shanghai holds an annual gathering for youths from fourteen of its twin cities, who spend two and a half weeks together in a seminar of acquaintanceship. Two major things happen: the first is that being representatives of the country and the city, the group members prepare a presentation, and tell about life, education and culture in the country, and take part in various mutual activities such as sports, visiting various sites in Shanghai etc. The second thing is that youths get to know people their age from other countries and cultures, which widens horizons and extends their networking possibilities, in addition to the introduction to Chinese culture.
“During the preparation process, I teach the pupils about China’s history and culture, as it is one of my specializations. They also learn how to be diplomatic and representative, and in addition have to be verbally proficient and possess a good level of English.
“Our delegations always excel in sports—they win rowing competitions and so on—and everybody agrees that they make the merriest group, singing and dancing and spreading liveliness among others.”
Ironi Aleph high school maintains lively connections with the world. “For the last decade,” says the school’s principal, Batya Brauner, “we have had very special connections between immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and their parallels in Boston. The students travel abroad visit their counterparts, yet I am obliged to stress that the main thing is not the trip in itself: there’s a preparation process that takes a whole year. Now there’s a whole new dimension to the project, as we intend to also include the students’ family members; a representative from Boston arrived here in May to discuss these new possibilities.
“We have recently established a new connection, with Erfurt, in Germany, and last year saw the beginning of another cooperation, with Beijing, through the Haifa Boston Connection. Our 10th and 11th graders who study medicine took part in a contest in Beijing on the subject of medical sciences, and came second among all delegations, having pondered the role of genetics versus lifestyle in heart diseases. The competition was quite fierce, so it really was an honor.
“In addition I made contact with a network of San Diego schools called Hi-tech High, whose principles include project-based learning, which is very relevant to our day and age. What impressed me most was the personalization process and the way they construct the school’s different framework, following the principles and rules and at the same time being liberal. We implement some of their ideas about meaningful learning by way of writing essays.”