Today we visited the school of our hosts, the Sapir College of Sha’ar HaNegev. We were kindly given a tour by the principal Mr. Harale Rothstein.
The starting point was the ancient garden, displaying remnants of past times, and symbolising the rich history not only of the school grounds, but of the country of Israel.
This cultural diversity directly represented at the entrance also reflects the different backgrounds of the students: whether they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim or live in a Kibbuz, a Moshav or in the city, the pupils are encouraged to celebrate their individuality and to accept each other as human beings. Today, this ideal of coexistence is as important as ever, especially concerning the relationship to Gaza.
Opposing the ancient garden is the ecological garden. Mr. Rothstein stressed the importance of instilling a sense of respect and responsibility towards the environment in the students.
What strikes the eye immediately are the large amphitheatres and stages on campus. The architecture was planned by students and teachers 18 years ago, in cooperation with the architect of the Holocaust memorial. Sadly, he passed away before the completion of the buildings.
As you can see below (picture of the Junior High School (Years 7-9)), the buildings of the numerous faculties are noticeably solid and sturdy to provide a reliable shelter in the case of an emergency.
After entering the Science and Technology Center, we witnessed all the modern devices the students were working on. There were computer booths in the halls and interactive whiteboards in the classrooms. As the school is so heterogenous, the principal explained that the pupils need to be given various options to succeed to cater for all the different personality and learner types. I believe this approach is crucial to give every student the opportunity to flourish in an individual learning environment.
An example for the implementation of this ideal is the programming and construction of a satellite by several pupils, which will be sent to space in August 2018. Sustainability is also the focus of this project, as the satellite will take pictures of the earth nine times a day and report back to the school, where the students will deal with ecological problems, especially concerning potable water, a common problem in Israel. Below is a picture of the control centre for the satellite.
The Tech department incorporates eight labs, and in response to Aaron’s question of how money is raised, Mr. Rothstein replied with, as he explained, the premise of his secret: “If you have a good story you can sell it to everybody.”
From my impression, it seems as though the pupils are lucky to have such a committed and active principal and a school striving for such progressive educational values.
What struck my eye was also the relaxed and amicable manner in which Mr. Rothstein casually engaged in conversations with the students in the hallways or on campus.
Below is a picture of a garage, where students also learn the practical side of the curriculum – low technology combined with high technology.
We then made our way through a few buildings, and found the corridors and classrooms to be decorated with posters and pieces of art. The colourful, large space was very inviting and created a lively atmosphere – much unlike our learning environment in Germany, where the building appears sterile and dim, where the halls are only dedicated to hurrying through and passing one’s quotidian schedule.
Especially in the arts centre (where children in need of special education are located too), the walls were decorated with artwork, mannequins, photos and more.
One teacher (for maths and art) talked about his class and we learned that the students can freely choose projects they wish to work on – may it be a piece of furniture for their rooms at home or a foosball table for their classroom as a group project.
As I did not have the chance to choose more than one artistic subject in Year 11, I truly envy how the personal interests and talents are nurtured through such versatile options – at Sapir College, you can choose from 24 subjects to specialise in (humanities, technology, ballet, radio, film, …)!
Towards the end of our visit, we attended several English classes of the seventh grade in small groups. As we arrived, loud music came from some classrooms and the kids were spread out in the hall. My group entered a class in which the topic was “earthquakes”, and I was surprised by the differences in their proficiency levels – although most pupils were surprisingly articulate! The teacher organised the lesson with the help of a white board – she showed the students a YouTube video about a natural disaster in Haiti and a world map to locate the major tremors. They then proceeded to read a text aloud, which was a digital version of the school book projected by the beamer. Personally, I believe that the natural integration of technology in schools is crucial to prepare children for our constantly changing modern world – an aspect worth developing in our school system as well.After the lesson, we headed outside and carried on with our packed schedule. Just before leaving the building, I caught sight of this encouraging poster, which I feel not only sums up the inclusive and international spirit of the Sapir College, but also of our exchange: We are all different, but in this class – in this community – we swim together.