The AMIT school system, consisting of 110 schools teaching 30,000 students across the country, celebrates 90 years of educational activities on Tuesday.
Celebrations include a visit to the President’s residence Tuesday morning and a birthday party at the Jerusalem International Convention Center with guest of honor, newly sworn-in Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and interactive booths run by students of the AMIT schools in the afternoon.
“We want every student, wherever they’re coming from and whatever their needs are, to have the best opportunities to reach their fullest potential and no tool they need should be out of their reach,” AMIT President Debbie Isaac, who is in Israel for the celebrations, told The Jerusalem Post.
The concept of the schools, Isaac said, is to create educational and vocational opportunities for Israeli students from all backgrounds, across the country.
One of the focuses is to lead the education industry in classroom innovation.
“Education is evolving,” Isaac said, claiming AMIT schools stay ahead of the curve by “changing very drastically and very dramatically how we educate in our schools.”
Technology, she said, rests in the pockets of every student, even those from Israel’s lowest socioeconomic strata.
“Information is available readily to everyone. The question today is what do you do with that information? How do you use it effectively.”
Today, she explained, teachers are no longer imparters of information, but rather facilitators.
AMIT schools have started using “flipped classrooms,” a teaching method that has students learn basic concepts on their own at home and then come into the classroom “to utilize those basic concepts.”
This, she said is the opposite of how education systems used to work, by teaching basic concepts at school and expecting students to learn how to apply them on their own.
She lists interdisciplinary learning, experiential learning and game-theory learning as some of the techniques used to allow students to utilize information they have learned at home and take that learning to a new level in the classroom.
As an example, she cited an English class that opted to blog and tweet in English rather than using traditional methods of learning the language.
The feedback from students, she said, has been very positive.
They are “much happier in class, they enjoy attending school more,” she stated.
Parents, who sometimes worry when they initially hear of the new teaching techniques, have been very happy with the school’s educational approach, she said.
While the network boasts an over 80 percent overall matriculation pass rate among its students, the schools don’t all focus on traditional subjects; some emphasize vocational training, such as automotive care, catering and even hair styling.
These schools, she said, build students’ self-esteem by allowing them to succeed in less-traditional subjects and this self-esteem spills over into traditional subjects.
One of the schools has a track for scouting and many of the graduates become sought-after trackers in the army. “It gives them a real sense of success,” Isaac said.
Another aspect of pride for the school system is its immigration- integration policy.
Each new wave of immigration to Israel brings new challenges and the school rises to meet them all, she said, indicating that the Amit schools are taking in one or two new students from the current wave of French immigrants each week and integrating them into the system.
In light of the recent demonstrations in the Ethiopian- Israeli community, Isaac spoke about the high number of Ethiopian-Israelis in the AMIT school system, most of whom matriculate.
Although many schools had very low quotas for Ethiopian immigrants when they came to Israel – as low as 10 percent – the AMIT school system was happy to take them in, she said.
Due to AMIT’s success at teaching different segments of society and their “excellent track record educating in the Ethiopian population and educating in a way that did not segregate Ethiopian communities out of the rest of the population,” Isaac said the organization was approached by the government to take over schools in Netanya.
The ultra-orthodox community also has been integrated into AMIT’s school system, she said, indicating that they were approached, along with some 20 other educational organizations, to design a program for the sector.
Of those, she said, AMIT is the only one still operating two facilities.
AMIT’s success, she said, lies in the holistic approach it took not just devising an educational plan, but in addressing the psychological issues involved; keeping parents and community rabbis involved in the process; and never forcing the students to change their religious beliefs.
“The issue of integrating the haredi community into the economic life of the country is very important,” Isaac said, stressing the significance of secular subjects being part of the curriculum.
Finally, Isaac emphasized the importance of women’s empowerment in a school system that was founded by a woman who broke away from the male-led Mizrahi organization. Bessie Gotsfeld decided that if she was raising money, there was no reason she shouldn’t decide where the money went, so she started Mizrahi Women, which later changed its name to AMIT.