The first month of the school year is one of new expectations, of new beginnings and the renewal of old friendships. And it is the beginning of a holiday season, and thus the beginning of a new cycle of learning about traditions and cultures.
Each class began to think about expectations in their own way. The sixth-graders colored in balloons with the theme “The Sky’s the Limit,” adding a few words about their last year in the primary school and beyond. For the first graders, an exercise in coloring in an “emotion clock” was meant to help students and teachers communicate about feelings – a helpful lesson when kids are all starting out with fears, excitement and resistance. In other classes, the children expressed their expectations through writing on cutouts of migrating birds that “flew” off together in the schoolyard or cutouts of their handprints each bearing a single word representing that child’s hopes for the coming year.
Getting the kids used to working together was also a part of the first month’s lesson plans. The second graders worked in small groups to build towers from straws and then talked about what was good or not-so-good about working together. The fifth graders had a “jigsaw” learning session in which each group took on a subject connected to one of the holidays, learned the material individually and then in groups, and then presented it in the group to the rest of the class. The fifth graders also had a “getting together” day of games in the schoolyard.
The school year is fraught with days that remind us that each of us grows up in a community and a religion, with a narrative that shapes our identity. That is why the school has begun a tradition: the Festival of Hope. On the evening of May 31, the entire village, school community and parents’ community were invited for an evening of entertainment, food and fun.
Coming near the end of the school year, it is a way for the children to celebrate the experience they have had over the year of learning and playing with friends of all kinds. And it is a chance for children, parents and village members to come together in the name of peace. The holiday is celebrated at a time when Jews and Arabs in the country are participating in events that remind them of freedom, but also subjugation, occupation and cultural and religious differences. The purpose of the Festival of Hope is not to erase these conflicting narratives, but to add a new one that celebrates not division but hope for peace and a better future.
The children were all dressed in white and they filed into the central school ground where lines had been laid out for them on the ground, showing them where to sit. With the help of a drone photographing them from above, they became a giant human peace sign.
The evening was also a festival of music, dance and theater. The students showed off the skills they had learned over the year in their extracurricular classes; playing instruments, singing, dancing and performing skits. A good laugh was had by all when they announced a skit called “refreshment break,” and the parents stood up and turned toward the tables laden with food.
the Primary School successfully accomplished a litany of laudable achievements in the latter half of 2021. These include:
Re-opening in person for nearly 300 students after more than a year on Zoom
Adding, in response to demand, a second first-grade classroom
Welcoming and orienting a new principal, Neama Abo Dalu, an educator and administrator with over 17 years of experience in binational education
Strengthening, through teacher workshops, the HOTAM curriculum (Education, Culture, and Tradition), setting the standard for bilingual, culturally inclusive education in Israel
Working with the parents, teachers, community, municipality, and consultants to develop a systematic expansion into middle and high school grades, increasing their regional impact
Developing or strengthening weekly instructional classes in music, sports, local ecology, theater, film, and nature crafts, in addition to teaching the mandated core curriculum
Providing teacher training and mentoring in the HOTAM curriculum, lesson planning, and bilingual education during the summer and school calendar year
Planning and carrying out curriculum-connected field trips and special days including first-day-of-school celebrations, science and art workshops for teachers and students, an experiential learning olive harvest trip, and multiple holiday activities connected to Purim, Ramadan, Easter, and Sigd, all of which included parents and the wider community in their invitations
Strengthening the Parents Community, including increased classroom involvement and increased community engagement, with a goal that the greater connections fostered among parents provide a place and people with whom to process the tensions and erupting violence in Israel’s Mixed Cities
Continuing renovation and new construction of the new playground, to be fully completed in 2022
The Fall semester is nearly over, and Primary School students are grateful to be back at their beloved school. Under the leadership of principal Neama Abo Dalu, teachers and students continue working with the HOTAM (Education, Culture, and Tradition) curriculum, setting the standard for bilingual, culturally inclusive education in Israel. In addition to instruction in Arabic and in Hebrew, students took part in activities and trips to further develop their understanding and appreciation for a spectrum of cultural traditions.
A large group of 5th and 6th-grade students participated in the Hekton Competition in Mateh Yehuda. The students presented ideas to help inspire Jewish students to learn Arabic, enhance the relationship between students and the environment, and make school a more interesting and enjoyable place for students.
We have a new primary school principal, and as she begins work in these uncertain times, she will certainly rely on the support and involvement of parents in the education system. She is already actively working with Nir Sharon, Director of Educational Institutions and Youth Club to plan for the coming year, and the Parents’ Community will figure prominently in the activities during the year. Although the school has been teaching the human values of culture and tradition for its entire existence, we now have a printed curriculum for all grades, and we expect the Parents’ Community, as a group, to improve their grasp of the new HOTAM curriculum’s goals and segments so as to help their children continue discussing at home the concepts and ideas they learn in school. Finally, due to a new school opening in the area, a number of students will not be returning in the coming school year. Despite this setback, the Primary School has committed to retaining its full teaching staff and working to recruit new children and restore the balance between Jewish and Arab children. In this, too, we depend on the support and involvement of the Parents’ Community
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