'Green' curriculum to sprout in 21 Beit Shemesh schools

Sviva Israel, a religious environmental NGO, has crafted several lessons to teach students how to calculate their own and their school's ecological footprint.

boy in tree-88 (succot) (photo credit: )
boy in tree-88 (succot)
(photo credit: )
Sviva Israel is kicking off an ambitious environmental education curriculum Wednesday in 21 schools in Beit Shemesh. The project, the first of its kind to be run citywide in Israel, will introduce students in secular and religious schools to their "ecological footprint" - that is, how much of the earth's resources you need to maintain your lifestyle. Sviva Israel, a religious environmental NGO, has crafted several lessons to teach students how to calculate their own and their school's ecological footprint - and in terms relevant to children. "Ecological footprints on our Web site are measured in basketball courts, not hectares or dunams," which is easier for children to relate to, Carmi Wisemon, co-founder and executive director of Sviva Israel, told The Jerusalem Post. The lesson plan introduces the three Rs - reduce, reuse, recycle - through the example of three children who drink 10 half-liter bottles of Coke each week. David decides to drink two bottles of Coke a week instead of 10; Sarah decides to buy 5-liter bottles instead of 10 half-liter bottles; and Noa decides to continue to buy 10 bottles a week but pledges to recycle all of them. The idea is then to embark on a classroom discussion of who has contributed the most to reducing their ecological footprint. Wisemon, who is a rabbi and social worker by profession and runs Sviva Israel pro bono, told the Post that as far as he knew, they were the only organization to have an ecological footprint calculator in both Hebrew and English geared to children. It can be accessed at: www.svivaisrael.org. Each lesson plan also has optional excerpts from Jewish sources about the importance of environmental conservation. The project will run in both elementary and high schools, including state, state-religious and haredi schools, Wisemon said. "This is the perfect way to get people to work together," because "what happens in the public space affects everyone," he explained. At the end of the project, each school will receive a report comparing their school's ecological footprint with the other 20 schools in the program, which, Wisemon hopes, will spark interest and competition between the schools. Eventually, they might all work together on a citywide environmental mission, he said. Wisemon and co-founder Tamar, his wife, ran a modified program last November for Jewish Social Action Month (Heshvan) between two Jerusalem schools, Keshet and Neveh Etzion Girls' School, and two New York Jewish day schools, Beit Rabban and the Hannah Senesh Community Day School. Funded by the UJA, the four schools compiled their school-wide ecological footprints and then compared the results. It was that previous venture and the recommendation from the Jerusalem educational coordinator which led to the Beit Shemesh Eco-Connection, said Avi Bracha, director of the Environmental Protection Unit of the Matei Yehuda Local Authority. "We are running a very large project on recycling in upward of 30 schools in Beit Shemesh and this fits right in," said Bracha. "We heard nice things about the previous project from the Jerusalem educational coordinator and we brought it to the attention of the powers that be in Beit Shemesh. They liked the idea of teaching about the ecological footprint so we gladly partnered with Sviva Israel." Sviva Israel works with the Environmental Protection Ministry and was just recently admitted to Life and Environment, the umbrella organization of Israeli environmental NGOs. After teaching Beit Shemesh teachers and students practical tips for a sustainable lifestyle, Wisemon envisions teaching many more teachers about the three Rs (or the three lameds, as the case may be) and strengthening Diaspora-Israel relations. "My vision is to bring US college students and Israeli ones in pre-military academies together, train them and have them run programs in their home communities, which will build connections between entire communities abroad and in Israel," he said.