New remote classrooms in many of our schools are reminding our students and teachers that you don’t have to be next to someone to relate to them. But even before this became the norm for connections within Atlanta, we have been building human and technological bridges to Israel like never before. For years, Atlanta’s Jewish day schools and supplemental schools have had a twinning program that links the lives of more than 400 students at Atlanta Jewish Academy, The Epstein School, The Davis Academy, The Weber School and The Temple, to 11 schools in Yokneam. Through letter writing, videos, Zoom calls, Purim mishloch manot (gift baskets), and home hospitality when Atlanta schools visit Yokneam, twinning has built amazing personal bonds between students and teachers. And in the last 3 years, the Shinshinim program has brought Israeli high school graduates to Atlanta, further strengthening our students’ connections to Israel.
Classroom twinning has also accelerated Atlanta students’ Hebrew skills. Watch this video of Weber School students giving their Israeli friends a video “tour,” in Hebrew, of Weber School’s new Daniel Zalik Academy, which focuses on STEAM learning.
Our classrooms, on both sides of the world, have influenced each other. Some schools in Atlanta celebrate Sigd Day, an Ethiopian holiday celebrating renewal of the covenant between G-d, Torah, and the Jewish people. Several of our schools have Yokneam Day, celebrating Israeli culture and our Sister City. Israeli teachers report: “For our students to communicate with someone abroad is a big thing. Also, discovering that there is a Jewish life outside of Israel was mind blowing for them!” And Atlanta teachers say, “We are doing activities over mutual interests like holidays. We did an activity about the prayer for the rain, Hanukkah, the concept of spreading light and more. The kids are loving it.”
Recently, eight Atlanta teachers were part of a delegation that traveled to Yokneam and Megiddo to collaborate with Israeli teachers. Michal Ilai, who teaches at The Weber school reflected on her visit.
“In Yokneam, I saw teaching that was done with intentionality and love. I found students who are eager to learn and are respectful of their teachers. I heard administrators saying they are tired of reducing students to grades, so they create change by bringing a warm and inclusive education to all.”
“Visiting schools that lack many resources and witnessing the high level of learning that takes place was inspirational. Yokneam educators have come a long way and there’s much they can teach us. From principals we met, through department chairs and teachers, all seem focused on developing mentsches in their students first. Because of this trip, I am working closely with my dedicated partners in the region to build meaningful educational initiatives for our students in both communities, guided by the principal of ‘All Jews Are Responsible For One Another.’”
Maayan Yitzhaki, who also teaches at The Weber School said, “I had the opportunity of visiting Lotem, an organization that makes hikes and educational nature experiences accessible to special needs youth. I had a taste of what a visually impaired person can experience at Lotem as I crushed olives to make oil while blindfolded.
“Another eye–opening experience was cooking a healthy meal from start to finish with the teens who participate in HILA, part of the system of educational-social services for disengaged youth and youth at risk. As we cooked and talked, I realized that these teenagers have a second home with their educators, who care about them and go above and beyond to make sure that they are successful. Each teen has a teacher who makes sure that they are on the right path, both emotionally and academically. They make sure that students have a healthy school/ home balance and will even make a wake–up call to the student’s home, if needed.
Maayan also visited Yitzhak Navon School in Yokneam, The Epstein School’s twin in Israel. “It was amazing to meet the teacher and students I had been corresponding with. Their school was engaging and warm, full of new ways to educate and create an interactive learning experience, such as their active recess, during which all the students have recess at the same time and play interactive educational games,” she said.