This is part one in a three-part blog series from The iCenter for Israel Education, sharing its approach to working closely with day schools and camps to create effective Israel education experiences for learners.

Israel at Camp. Photo courtesy of The iCenter.

Many Jewish education initiatives introduce educators to new approaches, curriculum, methods of instruction, or other techniques to enrich education within their settings. While they all, in some way, often have a positive impact on an aspect of education, many of these initiatives are limited in scope. They might provide educators with a specific, ready-made curriculum and train them in its use. Or, an initiative might focus on training limited groups of educators on how to develop programming. But at The iCenter, which advances excellence in Israel education by serving as the North American hub and catalyst for shaping and strengthening the field, we offer a holistic approach.

Two initiatives, both entering their third year of implementation, exemplify this approach. The Jewish day school initiative (iNfuse, supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation) and the Jewish overnight summer camp initiative (Israel @ Camp, supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation and The Maimonides Fund) position us to take a birds-eye view of Israel education as we work with leadership teams and educators at schools and camps. Together, we explore everything the school or camp is doing around Israel education, while at the same time attending to specific elements as we look to experiment, deepen, and enrich these experiences. This holistic approach transcends the setting; it allows for long-lasting, systemic change within the organization, extending far beyond the school or camp’s participation in the initiative itself.

Our broad consideration of Israel education in their settings helps the schools and camps see new opportunities for integration and strengthening of Israel learning and connection. With this guidance, Israel becomes part of the holistic Jewish experience at a school and a camp, and is not isolated from the rest of the learning experiences. In a school, this may mean that Israel is extended beyond Hebrew language and Judaic studies classes into general studies and even beyond the classroom. For example, a science class exploring water-related issues has an opportunity to investigate the water challenges in Israel and consider how scientists have creatively come up with solutions for water shortage problems. In a camp setting, it may mean that Israel education is connected intentionally to the Jewish values that camp is promoting all summer long and not isolated only to a half-day Israel Day once per summer. A leadership camp for teenagers, for example, has the opportunity to look at models of leadership in Israel as they consider their own leadership development throughout the summer, including early pioneers who built the land and modern-day Israeli innovators and social entrepreneurs making a difference in the world.

A Process for Implementing a Holistic Approach
In both initiatives, the process is not linear; schools and camps come to the work from different places, for different reasons, and they may cycle through the elements in different ways. We always begin our work by getting a picture of what is currently being done in the school or camp. What are they already teaching? How does a child walk through the setting and experience Israel on a day to day basis? What are they doing outside of the formal programming time that engages learners with Israel? What kind of Israel experience are they already offering, and what sorts of opportunities begin to present themselves?

We also embark on a process with the school or camp to create a vision—an aspirational statement, a specific articulation that will guide educational decisions about Israel, create shared language among educators, and be readily translated into learning outcomes. In our next blog in this series, we will go into more detail around this part of the process, sharing examples of learning goals and demonstrating how those then help schools/camps make decisions about programs.

Seeing This Process in Action
As we work individually through this process, exciting opportunities begin to emerge that help the day schools and camps broaden beyond their original motivation for beginning the process with us. One school we worked with was looking to create a new curriculum for 6th-8th grade that combined teaching Israel history and Hebrew language as a way to improve Israel education at the school. Through iNfuse, they were encouraged to also articulate a broader vision and a set of learning goals and outcomes for Israel education. As they worked on this big picture project, they realized that their initial idea of building a new curriculum would not help them completely achieve their broader goals. For example, one of these goals focused on the vibrancy of the modern State of Israel and its contributions to the world, but there was no way to fit this into the framework of the curriculum they were building. With this in mind, and considering other opportunities that already exist in the school, they started looking at grade-wide retreats as a way to intentionally infuse Israel into the learning experiences of their students outside the classroom.

As another example, one camp we worked with was motivated to join the Israel @ Camp Intensive because it recently made its Israel trip mandatory for the oldest campers and was concerned about possible recruitment implications of this decision. We worked closely with camp leadership to examine opportunities for all campers to engage with Israel throughout the summer in an effort to build excitement around traveling to Israel. In working toward this goal, camp leadership realized it had to focus on multiple components of camp—including staff training and the camp environment—because each component was an opportunity to build a meaningful connection with Israel. The more that camp leadership examined different parts of the camp experience, the more committed they became to articulating a broader vision for the place of Israel at camp.

 A Team Approach to Israel Education
A holistic approach works best when everyone sees themselves as responsible for Israel education. At  schools, the Jewish studies classes are often taught by Israeli faculty, perpetuating the implication that Israel is “owned” solely by Israeli staff and/or Jewish studies teachers. At camp, Israel education has historically been “owned” by the Israeli shlichim coming to camp every summer. Yet a more holistic approach to Israel education leads to a strong sense that Israel is something that we all care about, something that connects to so many aspects of our lives. At school, this means Israel should be integrated by all faculty in whatever way best suits their teaching styles and topic areas. At camps, we emphasize the importance of Israel education being a partnership between Israelis and North American staff, and we have seen success when camps emphasize and nurture this partnership. In both settings, the more that the educators actively engage with Israel themselves, the stronger and more enriched their personal connections are to Israel, and the better they are able to bring Israel into the lives of their learners.

We have more learnings to share from our work with day schools and camps. In part 2, we dive deeper into the process of setting goals, sharing examples of learning outcomes and demonstrating how they guide schools and camps in making programmatic decisions. In part 3, we explore what day schools and camps can learn from each other.

This article was originally published on the Avi Chai blog. Click here to view the original.

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