I started the day at the Elaine Silver Vocational High School in Beersheva. There is something so magical about this place and I think it begins with the principal Zipi Harpenes, who is clearly adored by her students and is a surrogate mother to everyone. Students come to the school from all over the country, often after having been kicked out of one or more schools. Some are recovering addicts in rehab programs, others students are sometimes the only family member who works to be able to pay bills. Before AMIT took over the school, it functioned at a very basic level essentially watching children and providing some basic vocational instruction. The school gives teens responsibilities and incentives to pursue one of the several vocational tracks. Everything at the school has been built or created by the students with their own two hands. They are responsible for building and decorating virtually every aspect of the school. So, Rafael, who loves wood working, one of the vocational tracks literally helped build the music room and fitness area, as well as school furniture and flower planters.
Next the landscape architect students design and plant areas to beautify the grounds. Art classes and graphic design, both theoretical and practical, are another track. I saw some amazing paintings, drawings, and design work that the art students created in the past year. Much of their work is hanging throughout the campus. In the automotive track students learn in two classrooms side- by-side with the theoretical learning located next to a room filled with engines, tools, and state-of-the-art diagnostic tools. When these students graduate, many enter the army and are responsible for servicing all the army vehicles and tanks. It’s quite an accomplishment for the children who have come to this school where, for many, this is their last hope to get a proper education so that they can move forward with their lives.
At AMIT Wasserman Junior and Senior High School, also in Beersheva, I saw a vibrant and thriving school that has 1400 students in grades 7-12. With Its great diversity, I felt like it was a microcosm of a small city. I spoke with Idan who is in 12th grade and he told me that he selected AMIT Wasserman because of its excellent academic reputation and having the best science and math programs as well as unique opportunities for students in the area. In fact, Idan, who comes from a traditional background and not a religious home told me that since coming to the school he has become interested in Torah study and has learned quite a lot about Jewish values and customs. He is applying to a special elite dental program offered by the army. If he gets accepted, Idan will study for seven years and then serve as a dentist in the army for five years afterwards. Kids from all backgrounds are clamoring to get into AMIT Wasserman to get access to these high-level courses. Only 50% of the children who apply to the science and math academic track are accepted due to space limitations. Those children who select the school for religious studies are automatically accepted into the program. After I toured the school, I met with Elisha Peleg, the principal in the Chedar center, a very impressive state-of-the-art learning center. Chedar stands for Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Spirit (Ruach). To demonstrate the essence of the school, the principal shared a story with me about Efrat. When Efrat started in 7th grade she was very difficult and had serious behavior issues. Most of the teachers did not think that she would make it through school. However, in 9th grade Efrat was tested and it was discovered that she had a learning disability so she was placed into a special education class. Once her disability was addressed, she flourished in her classes and became a leader in school. Efrat graduated from AMIT Wasserman and is about to begin her military service, something that no one ever thought would be possible. Efrat is just one of many students whose lives have changed for the better because of their experience at AMIT Wasserman. Not only do students pass the Bagrut exam, but they often come back to visit the school to thank their teachers for supporting and believing in them and realize that their dedication helped them to be successful adults.
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