CRC partners with Cape Henry to offer Israel experience to Virginia educators

July 14, 2017

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School may be out for summer, but the business of education takes no vacation. While students bask in their break, administrators prepare for a new year of learning, facility crews repair and refresh buildings and grounds, and teachers continue to develop new and stimulating lesson plans.

For one group of Virginia educators this summer, an exciting professional development opportunity will broaden their horizons, as well as enrich and extend the boundaries of their curriculum. Through a public-private partnership with the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, and with additional financial support from the United Jewish Federation of Richmond, teachers and administrators from seven Virginia schools will travel to Israel to study the cultural, political, and social dynamics of the region.

This multicultural experience will include immersion and interaction with the Israeli Druze, Bedouins, Palestinians, Jews, and Arabs to obtain a better understanding of the varied perspectives regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. That understanding will add depth to classroom discussions on the Middle East.

“If teachers have first-hand experience in Israeli society, culture, politics, history, and, of course, education, they will be able to speak to and teach both students and their colleagues in a more effective and nuanced manner,” says Robin Mancoll, CRC director. “A lot of things can be taught, but true understanding comes from people-to-people connections and experiences.”

During their 10 days in Israel, educators will visit Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Caesarea, Haifa, Jerusalem, and the region near Lake Galilee. The group will also ascend to Mount Bental for a view into Syria, accompanied by a discussion on the geo-political situation on the Israeli- Syrian border.

The program was envisioned and developed by William Fluharty, director of the Nexus Global Studies program at Cape Henry Collegiate and director emeritus of the Global Education Benchmark Group. Fluharty collaborated in developing the itinerary, and made connections with private and public schools across the state to offer this opportunity to faculty and administrators. Fluharty believes one of the primary benefits of the program will be how the journey enriches the lessons taught in Virginia classrooms.

“Educators participating in this program will gain a depth of knowledge on the challenges in Israel, which will transfer to their students with more engaging personal narratives,” says Fluharty, who will also lead the group through Israel.

“I visited Israel for the first time in 2006. Seeing these historic sights and speaking with the people who lived there impacted the way I teach the topic of Israel and Palestine. Whenever a teacher can supplement their knowledge with first-hand experience, the students will be the clear beneficiaries,” says Fluharty.

“This program will not only have an immediate impact on the educators’ knowledge, but more importantly will impact the thousands of students these educators teach,” Fluharty says.

“The experience will allow educators to see (and teach) current events in the region differently than ever before,” says Mancoll. “With the exposure to Israel’s diverse population, democratic system of government, and complex strategic and societal dilemmas, participants will be able to relate details from their experience to conversations in the classroom.

“We know the experience will challenge any preconceived notions that participants may have and will promote dialogue, offering multiple perspectives on complex issues,” says Mancoll.

Participants will be required to share details of their experience in Israel through published articles and presentations in their communities.

As word of this opportunity spreads, the CRC hopes the program will grow and reach more educators. According to Mancoll, “The goal is to run the Virginia trip annually, but in time, invite other states with partnering Jewish communities to participate with us.” “It makes sense for educators and administrators to be engaged in this type of professional development,” adds Fluharty. “Giving them the opportunity to actually see the places they teach about, walk in the footsteps of historical figures, or interact with other teachers and experts in the region will impact the discussions these individuals have with their students, their colleagues, and communities.” “These educators will be able to enhance their curriculum with first hand experiences, and model for students the passion that can develop when immersed in another place and culture,” says Dr. Christopher Garran, head of school at Cape Henry Collegiate. “I am excited that we can offer teachers such a rich professional development experience overseas, and know that those experiences will enhance their teaching and our students’ learning.”

Situated at the crossroads of history, religion, and civilization, it may be no surprise that the Middle East has been rife with turmoil for generations. Many believe that education serves as the primary tool to ease these tensions, building an appreciation and understanding of the different cultures represented in the State of Israel. This group of Virginia educators, along with those who share their journey in the future, will have a unique perspective to relay to the future global leaders they enrich in their classrooms.

“The CRC knows that the best way for someone to ‘get’ Israel is to go there,” says Mancoll. “One can not help but be changed by the experience. They don’t come home with the answers, but with an understanding that the situation is not so easy, and that the majority of those living in the region want peace.

“We are sure that participants will come back changed personally and professionally, and the ripples of the experience will be felt for years to come.”

- Alison Bugg

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