This is part three 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.
By: Dvora Goodman and Aliza Goodman
In our previous posts, we introduced the idea of a holistic approach to Israel education and described the process of implementing this approach in both day schools and camps. Now, we explore what day schools and camps can learn from each other and how they might sustain their success into the future.
How this Approach Plays Out in Both Settings
At first glance, the work that The iCenter does in Jewish day schools seems different from the work we do in Jewish overnight camps. And in some ways it is. The settings of schools and camps are clearly different, with differing expectations about how the students or campers will engage with the materials and experiences.
But, while the work we do is framed differently for each setting, designing meaningful Israel education, identifying learning opportunities, and assessing needs are all key elements of The iCenter’s approach, regardless of educational setting. Educators in both schools and camps understand the importance of the environment in shaping and reinforcing the learning experiences, the need for thoughtful staff training, the invaluable opportunity to build meaningful relationships with Israelis, and the powerful role arts and culture play in Israel education. Introducing educators to our holistic approach strengthens what they are doing in all of these areas and helps them achieve positive outcomes with their learners.
The Best of Both Worlds
Our work in both settings shows just how much day schools and camps can teach each other. We challenge school educators to think about the experiences they create for their learners in and out of the classroom. We challenge camp educators to be intentional about their educational programming from summer to summer and to look at the whole experience that a camper has with Israel from the time they are young through their time as staff members.
Schools Learning from Camps
Our work in iNfuse with day schools benefits from many of the resources that we developed through our work with Israel @ Camp. Recently, a school looking to strengthen its experiential programming around Israel through a series of retreats for 7th-11th grade looked to our Israel @ Camp “Israel program database” for ideas around content and method. For example, a program known as “The Amazing Autograph Race” is an active exercise that blends the red carpet experience with Israeli history and culture by challenging students to collect the autographs of as many Israeli heroes as possible. In the process, they learn about important personalities in Israel’s history and present-day. This activity was developed for camps to facilitate as an evening program and it is perfect for a school retreat.
In addition to the program database, The iCenter developed and distributed sets of Israel Resource Cards for use in camps. We found that counselors’ perceived lack of knowledge was a barrier to them running fun and educational programming with campers around Israel. The Israel Resource Cards changed that–by supplying them with basic knowledge on easily accessible cards that can be used in numerous ways, such as games and other activities. Although we developed the cards specifically with camps in mind, other educators, including those in day schools, have jumped to use them in their settings. They have been used in schools for piquing interest of the students, for reinforcing past learning, for introducing new material, and for assessing knowledge or understanding. They are also being used to engage staff in thinking about their relationships with Israel and in beginning conversations around Israel education. Thousands of sets of cards have been distributed across North America and beyond, and they continue to be a useful tool for camps, day schools, and beyond.
Camps Learning from Schools
This “Best of Both Worlds” relationship goes both ways, as camps can learn from successes in school settings as well. In our second blog post, we described The iCenter’s work around setting learning outcomes. The next step of that work in a day school setting is to ensure that the curricular and extra-curricular components related to Israel are aligned with these outcomes, and that students’ learning and connections made with Israel deepen from grade to grade. For some camps, we’ve adapted this approach, working with their leadership to develop a curricular framework using themes and goals for different units at camp. At one camp, the process of choosing outcomes led to the development of a list of Ikkarim (core principles) that now guides all their educational decisions moving forward. Then, the camp articulated broad themes for each unit that would capture the interest of campers at the different ages, deepen their learning, and help them advance their core principles. For example, one of the Ikkarim is “Ahavat Yisrael,” the desire to foster strong, personal connections between campers and Israel. Focusing on this principle, the youngest campers will deepen their relationships with Israel through an exploration of Zionism and the yearning for Israel that led to the early pioneering movement. A couple of years later, as those campers move into a different unit, “Ahavat Yisrael” is explored predominantly through Israeli arts, culture, and music; the following year, that love is fostered through embracing multiple perspectives as campers begin to ask themselves deeper questions related to their connections and understandings of Israel.
Fresh Eyes Helps Both Settings
In both settings, challenging schools and camps to examine long-standing “traditions” through the eyes of learners has proved incredibly helpful. At one camp, educators realized that the Israeli geographic locations used as names for places in camp had been around for so long that their significance was lost to campers and staff alike. Campers genuinely did not know why the lower part of camp was called “Kinneret” and why the camp hill was called “Galil.” They developed a camp-wide activity to address this, having campers research the names of places around camp and then film short videos to introduce those places to their parents on visitors day.
A discovery in a school had similar impact. As part of the iNfuse process, school educators are encouraged to walk around the school looking through the eyes of the students and noting where Israel is “seen.” Several of the schools realized that some of the long-standing “Israel images” around the school had “faded into the background” over the years; students were walking around and not noticing them. Paying attention to how the school environment supports the Israel learning led to regular rotation of what was on the walls, tuning the students in regularly to the various Israel-related posters and artifacts now hanging prominently.
Finally, many day schools and camps offer Israel experience trips to their learners. For, both, the most challenging part of planning an Israel experience is not the experience itself; rather, it is integrating the experience into the rest of the learning experiences, whether at school or at camp. We help leaders in both settings ask some difficult questions: what are we doing in the years, months, and days leading up to the experience that prepares our learners for their trips? And how do we help them – both on the trip and beyond – integrate their learning into their everyday lives? By seeking answers, the Israel experience becomes a powerful tool for reinforcing things they have already learned and lays the groundwork for future learning.
When camps and schools are eager to learn from each other and to engage in deep planning and visioning about Israel education across their settings, their learners benefit from an exceptional, holistic experience. The iCenter encourages educators in all settings to think creatively and to never miss an opportunity to engage learners in meaningful Israel education. It can happen almost anytime, anywhere.
If you are interested in learning more, please visit https://www.theicenter.org/initiative/israel-camp-intensive or contact Aliza at Aliza@theicenter.org.