Hurfeish guards the North and strives to succeed

Mayor hopes ORT "Smart Classroom" will give boost to Druse town on "the periphery of the periphery."

Hurfeish class 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hurfeish class 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Less than two kilometers from Hizbullah and the Lebanese border lies the Druse community of Hurfeish. The people are friendly, happy to help out strangers and wave to the mayor as he drives through town. This is "the periphery of the periphery," local council Mayor Rekad Kheredin told The Jerusalem Post this week. Despite its desperate financial status, Kheredin and the other residents are determined to succeed. During the Second Lebanon War, 61 Katyusha rockets hit the town, 118 were wounded and 23 buildings were hit, including two schools. On Monday, World ORT dedicated a "Smart Classroom" at the Hurfeish Comprehensive High School. World ORT Chairman Robert Singer and ORT America head Doreen Hermelin attended the ceremony. Smart classrooms replace the blackboard and the whiteboard with a multimedia, interactive screen that combines video, e-mail and many other functions. At a demonstration lesson in physics class on Monday, pupils solved problems on the screen, recorded the session, watched a video, and played a who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire game, all on the Smart screen. That is only a fraction of what the screen can do, the Post was told. Kheredin explained how World ORT came to be involved in Hurfeish. "After the war, at the beginning of 2007, Robert Singer and his team came. The Education Ministry suggested us. I noticed they had a strong interest in investing in the Druse sector. "First, we prepared the infrastructure for a computer lab in a very short time. Then they donated a computer room for the teachers," Kheredin said. "For Project Smart, we did the entire infrastructure, they brought the equipment. In just three weeks, we organized and launched the project, he said. Kheredin also visited New York, Atlanta and London to meet with World ORT's donors. Hurfeish is remarkable for its high rate of service in the IDF. "As of 2006, which was the last time we checked, there was a 92.7 percent enlistment, nearly 60% to combat units. There is also a very high percentage of officers," Kheredin said. "We are in the periphery, but people do not give up but continue to go serve the country in the best way possible," he said. The commander of the IDF unit guarding the nearby part of the border is from Hurfeish. Kheredin has big plans for his small town. He had set himself three goals. First, to improve Hurfeish's education system. Donors have been found for three projects. "The Education Ministry's budget is not enough. We need to match 25%. As a poor council we can't give more than that. Without these donations that we got, the education system would have collapsed," Kheredin declared. Rabea Bader, a 12-grader at Hurfeish Comprehensive High School, is the type of student the school and the council would like to produce in greater numbers. "I am in all the 'Smart' classes. We started to use it two [school] days ago, on Thursday. It has potential, it opens doors for us. It is very easy to use, it's not complicated. We can do video conferences with people all over the world where ORT put Smart classes. It is new technology that we only dreamed of using," he told the Post in clear English. "This new technology made us feel like we are connected to people, connected to the world. It feels great to use it and to know how to use it," he said. The pupils have caught on to the technology faster than the teachers, according to Bader. "We're teaching the teachers. The new technology suits us," he said with a grin. Bader will enter the army's Technical Reserves (Atudai) program next year. He'll spend four years at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology studying computer science and software technology, six years in the army, and then plans to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his master's degree. After that, "I am going back to my hometown, to the people who raised me and gave me strength, who supported me when I needed support," Bader said. Rajih Gadban, principal of the school for 23 years, called the Smart classrooms a "pedagogic revolution of the first degree." "Teachers need to adopt new pedagogy. I am sure the teachers will succeed in this mission. They need to prepare their students for a hi-tech world. It gives them personal experience. They talk about the third generation [usually when referring to cellphones]. This is the third generation in teaching," Gadban told the Post. Gadban has high hopes for his students. "We want to reach the highest number of college graduates in the Druse community relative to size. Right now, we have a 58% rate of success in the high school matriculation exams. Kheredin laid out his two other missions, interconnected in his view. There is a severe housing shortage in Hurfeish, he said. "Two hundred families are without houses. There is a nature reserve near us that prevents the town from being expanded." Finally, "We need an industrial zone. We need the municipal taxes from an industrial zone. One of the problems we have is educated women who don't have anywhere to work. Because we are still a traditional community, women can't go far to find work. "By upgrading the education system, I change my financial situation. It is all connected. The problem is worse in the periphery of the periphery, namely the Druse. Only strong municipalities offer a good education," he said. Kheredin praised World ORT and its interest in Hurfeish. "The special connection with ORT America and World ORT in general is a very broad connection. Over and above the financial donation, there is a donation to the state. Donating to Hurfeish's education system is a net donation to Israel's security," he said. Project Smart is a joint initiative of World Ort and the Education Ministry.