This year, the students at the Primary School have been engaging in programming to learn how to care not only for each other but also the world around them. The students have been learning to nurture their environment, planting trees along the road leading up to the village in honor of Tu B’Shevat and Eid i-Shajara, and spending an activity day in the forest before spring break. Being green means, “making the effort so that the world will be cleaner for the people and the animals that live here,” explained Rayna, a sixth grader.
In April, the Primary School hosted an event centered on the Green Network, to which nine surrounding schools were invited. The Green Network program aims to educate children of all religions and races on the importance of the environment, and to monitor and support schools in initiating and developing environmental programs to reduce the ecological footprint of individuals and the surrounding community. The Green Network has operated with over 40 schools and 30 kindergartens in all sectors of the population in Israel; with Jews and Arabs, religious and secular; from the Galilee to Negev. At the program children were taught about the benefits of recycling, reusing, and the importance of being green. The Primary School has taken part in this program for the last three years! This year they had the honor of hosting under a new canopy over the turf play area.
The Primary School at NSWAS is so committed to recycling that it has a recycled art room, made from one of the first two wood huts that the people lived in when they settled the village. Everything inside and out is made from recycled materials and the kids work building art projects made of 100% recycled material. This could be just the beginning. The school staff would also like to develop a system to capture rainwater for irrigation, to construct solar electric panels on the roof, and even build a new kindergarten building in adobe style with recycled materials. Over the next few years there are plans to build a “Greenhouse Science Center” which will also incorporate the school’s current Zoo Lab animal center with a recycling center and plant nursery, and eventually be used as an education center for other schools in the region. The center will combine ecology with other areas of learning to create a hands-on experience for many more children in the region.
Tomer’s grandmother was last seen at the Primary School 15 years ago. “It was amazing, when my daughter went to school at Neve Shalom-Wahat al Salam, there were a few wooden cabins that were classrooms and today it is a beautiful campus with a gym, nursery school and playgrounds”.
“I was born on Kibbutz Be’eri but grew up in many different places in Israel. Twenty years ago when my daughter was starting school, I wanted her to learn at NSWAS. I believed then, as I do now that if all the towns and villages in Israel were like NSWAS, and all the schools had Arabs and Jews, the conflict in the country wouldn’t exist.”
“It was important for me that (my grandson) Tomer go to school at NSWAS. A place like NSWAS which is open to thinking differently and has such deep humanistic roots will naturally produce a more humanistic education and a healthy environment. When I went to the school last month, it was so warm and welcoming to me and the students. I’m very happy Tomer learns there. He comes home from school and reads and sings to me in Arabic and shows me all his work; for him, being together with Jews and Arab in natural.
Next year, Tomer’s brother will start the first grade and we are waiting anxiously to hear if he will get into the school.”
Grandma Tirza Yalon Kolton lives in Tel Aviv and a ceramicist and artist.
Democracy is an important principle for a binational primary school. Although even adults are sometimes hard-pressed to understand what democracy means and often fail in its practice, we try to explain it to our pupils through historical example, classroom discussions and student elections.
Israeli schools teach children about democracy by looking at historical events in which democracy has been tested. At our school this year we focused upon the Kafr Kassem Massacre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kafr_Qasim_massacre) and the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Yitzhak_Rabin).
The Kafr Kassem massacre gave us a framework for looking at the position of Arab citizens in Israel then and now. Shortly after the massacre, Arab citizens were released from military rule and the inquiry resulted in a landmark legal decision was made, according to which a soldier is obligated not to obey orders if they are manifestly illegal.
On the Rabin assassination we discussed the rules according to which democracy functions and democratic alternatives to violence. The school gathered for a commemoration that included a slide show presentation prepared by the children and teachers, narration by students, music and movement.
At the commemoration
The children continued their study of democracy by electing a student council. Each class elected Arab and a Jewish representatives and then elected two student leaders for the entire school. Before the election, the candidates mounted an election campaign based on goals and promises. On election day a ballot box was set up in the school lobby and all the students cast their vote. The winners were a Jewish 6th grader and an Arab 5th grader, both girls. We wish the new student leaders success in fulfilling their campaign promises, which were to organize more special activities for the students and more events for the school.
On June 7, in an apparent protest against the decision to evacuate an Israeli "outpost" settlement, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam was attacked by thugs who crept into the village, slashed tires of many cars and spray-painted right-wing and anti-Arab slogans on cars and buildings, including the Primary School.
Graffitis read "Death to Arabs" or "Revenge;" a message on one of the 14 damaged cars said "Hi from Ulpana" (the outpost settlement that the government decided to evacuate).
Right after the attack happened, the community, along with parents of the school, organized the cleanup of the school building – so that the hateful graffitis would be erased before the children came back to school.
A few days later, the children and parents participated in a “Peace Brush” happening: together they created their own graffitis on the school's walls, helped by caricaturists Ahmad and Mohammed Abu Num. Their graffitis focused on expression of feelings on the subject of peace and coexistence. On the school entrance, we can now read “We will live together” (picture). The activity was followed by a soccer game between the school team and a team of Arab and Jewish children from Jerusalem, under the auspices of the New Israel Fund.
One year of kindergarten is compulsory in Israel, but most attend pre-school much earlier. Yet for most of the children (all except 8 this year) it is their first year in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam and therefore their first experience of a bilingual classroom. Some children manage quite well and quickly make friends. For others it is harder.
Shams, an Arab girl from Lod, found it harder than most at the beginning. In her kindergarten she was known to be a very talented and outgoing child. She loves to sing and dance. But she definitely found it disconcerting to be in a situation where she could not communicate with half of the children and where some of the teachers spoke to her in Hebrew. She felt disadvantaged because Yaara and Bushra (two Arab girls from the village who had already been to kindergarten here), spoke Hebrew very well. So in the early days of the school she clung a lot to the Arab teachers, especially her homeroom teacher Yasmin. She would even stay with Yasmin and follow her around even during the school breaks.
Now Shams feels at home in the school. She can read, write and understand some Hebrew – still not perfectly, but she is learning to adjust – just like the other children. During the school breaks she plays with Jewish children, and has started to visit them after school.
Orel is a Jewish child from Messilat Tsiyon, a nearby Jewish moshav. Most of the residents in Messilat Tsiyon are Cochini Jews from South India, though Orel has an Indian-origin mother and a Yemenite-origin father. For the first half of the school year he attended a different school. However, he was unhappy there, and in parallel he started to hear from some of his friends in Messilat Tsiyon about the Oasis of Peace school and it sounded like much more fun. For example, they told him how they had celebrated Christmas and other holidays that he had never heard of. So he joined our school rather late – only after the winter break. It was not an easy step. By that time, the other children had already learned both the Hebrew and the Arabic alphabets and were making progress in understanding the other language. In short, he had a lot of catching up to do. Now he’s doing better, especially because he made a friend: Fariel, the Arab girl who sits next to him in the class. Now they are inseparable. Orel speaks to her in Hebrew; Fariel answers in Arabic, and it isn’t clear how much they understand one-another, but somehow it works, and Orel is beginning to feel at home at the school.
Asked how the first grade children are doing in general, Yasmin says they are all making steady progress. They understand the second language well at a passive level already, i.e. they understand most of what the teachers and the other children are saying. Working bilingually with the children requires a lot of effort on behalf of the teachers, and perhaps more so on behalf of the Arab teachers. For example, the school just celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday. The Arab children take part too, but the Jewish teacher cannot, by herself, work with the Arab children due to language limitations. So even though this is a Jewish holiday, the Arab teacher must be equally involved in the preparations. In the first grade there is the additional difficulty that the Jewish teacher, Ira, is now in advanced pregnancy and now may have to remain at home.
Integration between the children is very good and they play together without distinction. As mentioned, they have also begun to visit one-another at home.
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