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Reflections from our April Mission to Israel, by Junior Board member, Lance Carr
This past April I had the pleasure of attending the Youth Renewal Fund’s annual young leadership mission to Israel. The Youth Renewal Fund is the philanthropic partner to the Darca high school network, which was recently ranked the number one high school network in Israel by Israel’s Ministry of Education as measured by Bagrut scores—like AP exams in the U.S. These educational outcomes have profound implications for the lives of the students in Darca schools, enabling placement in more selective IDF units, university admissions and ultimately greater social mobility.
When touring the schools located in Israel’s marginalized communities, including Bat-Yam, Gedera, Ramla, and Netivot, I expected to see a curriculum specifically oriented to achieving high marks on the Bagrut; I was pleasantly surprised to observe just the opposite. The curriculum of the Darca schools is focused on nurturing a student’s individual abilities and self-confidence through what are commonly viewed as peripheral areas of educational focus, such as robotics, design and the performing arts. For example, in the Menachem Begin High School in Gedera each student gets to elect an area of focus among chemistry, design, and robotics. The students enjoy these electives so much that many remain hours after school has officially ended to work on their projects. The programs have such a degree of success that students have gone on to earn distinction in international competitions.
The Darca school system leverages students’ self-confidence realized through these creative pursuits to bolster performance in their primary subjects (e.g. math, science, literature). Further, the Darca team uses innovative teaching techniques such as “flipped” classrooms, virtual reality and simulations. While visiting in the Netivei Noam school in Gedera, we played one such simulation called “Escape the Room” that taught the students the chain of events that occurred during the reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. It was a riveting way to relive these historically momentous events.
The Hebrew word to describe a school network such as Darca is “חברתי”, which translates to “societal”. This terminology speaks to the program’s focus on Israel’s socio-economically challenged students, without regard to religious affiliation. To me, this is a limited translation. The Hebrew word “חבר” translates to friend, which more accurately describes the environment at the Darca schools. It’s clear when visiting the schools that in addition to academic achievement, the school also focuses on creating a nurturing environment for the students, giving each particular attention and the confidence that they have the core tools to succeed.
The timing of the trip allowed us to experience Yom Hashoa (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in Israel, a powerful memorial given its far-reaching impact on the formation of Israeli society. To observe the day, we visited the site of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, attended a student-led assembly featuring a number of songs and poetry at the Rene Cassin school in Jerusalem and toured Yad Vashem, Israel’s holocaust museum. These programs were a stark reminder that for the State of Israel to survive and prosper, the Jewish people must be strong and united. This effort must, first and foremost, start with a strong and inspirational educational foundation for Israel’s youth.
Having attended the trip for two consecutive years, it’s clear that The Youth Renewal Fund is at the forefront of social progress within Israel. In addition to improving the raw test scores, which directly affect students’ social and financial well-being, the Darca network is creating an environment that instills hope, equality and leadership capabilities among its students. It is my hope that The Youth Renewal Fund and Darca continue the unparalleled success that they have seen thus far. It is programs and networks like Darca that will enable Israel to remain strong, prosperous and innovative, a model for education and growth around the world.
To learn more about The Youth Renewal Fund in general or our mission to Israel, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org