Leaders in the classroom

It will be a difficult start for the nation’s children as they prepare to return to school on schedule Monday, September 1.

Classroom (illustrative). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Classroom (illustrative).
‘It is clear that we are going back to school after a war.
This was a different vacation, where our students weren’t really on vacation,” says Ido Abramovitz, the educational director of the AMIT Shafran Yud High School in Ashdod.
Not only do his students have to come to grips with the difficulties of war, but “this is a small country, everyone knows someone who fought, or was injured or killed in battle,” he says, adding that his students “were also part of the war under fire, here in Ashdod.”
It will be a difficult start for the nation’s children as they prepare to return to school on schedule Monday, September 1.
As a reservist commander of a tank brigade, Abramovitz had to put his educational duties on hold after receiving a call to duty on the first day of Operation Protective Edge.
Serving for 32-days straight, helping to locate and destroy enemy tunnels, he spoke of many difficulties encountered with fighting an enemy within a civilian population, but that Israel “delivered Hamas a strong blow.”
“We [the soldiers] felt the support of the entire nation during the battle, and that’s what gave us the strength to go on.”
One of his former students, a recent graduate, 19-year-old Golani Brigade Sgt. Ben-Yitzhak Vanunu was killed during the ground operation, along with six other soldiers, fighting in Shejaia, the neighborhood in eastern Gaza City, when their armored personnel carrier came under attack.
Abramovitz found out about his student’s death on a short furlough outside Gaza, when he turned his cellphone on and had dozens of messages telling him to call home quickly.
“I had a bad feeling that something happened,” he says.
He says that upon returning to school, he “will personally talk about our graduate [Vanunu], and how he was a hero, and fell in battle for the love of the Land of Israel and so that they [the students] could be safe on the home front.”
He says he will talk about how the “victory” was fought by the IDF “ethically and morally,” and “how unified the country was.”
He says it is extremely important to maintain that unity during good times as well.
In addition he says that he will share what he has learned from the young soldiers during the operation.
“While a lot of people say this young generation is ‘the smartphone generation,’ and has nothing to offer, I disagree. The love and the sacrifice I saw from these youngsters is on equal footing as the generation that established the State [of Israel], nothing less.”
His overall hope going into the school year is that “instead of this year being a hard year, it will be a meaningful year.”
THE BEST medicine for the students following this difficult summer, is returning to a normal routine,” says Moti Arbel, the head of the AMIT organization’s network of religious high schools in Sderot.
Arbel says that his students, like many others, “unfortunately have been exposed to rockets and alarms for so long that their routine is not a true routine,” when compared to places that aren’t under constant rocket threat.
He says that since they truly understand the trauma involved in living in the South, “many of them spent their summer giving strength to other children, volunteering in the shelters in places like Beersheba. This shows that the students demonstrated a positive sense of resolve.”
Arbel says that going into the school year, he already knows which students are going to need additional help and attention to cope and which ones won’t need as much, since “we are in touch with the kids all summer long. We know what each and every child did, and our teachers visited the students at home.”
He adds that “we are hoping for quiet and normalcy.
Since our buildings are protected, sometimes we see students who have a greater feeling of security [in terms of safety] here than they have in their homes.”
Overall though, he says that “our youth are strong.
They understand and believe that Sderot must be strong in order to keep the rest of the country strong.”
He admits, “I get my strength from them.”
THE ESTABLISHMENT of a routine, seems to be the primary objective laid out by educators on all levels, from the Education Ministry, to principals, guidance counselors and teachers.
As such, an official within the ministry tells the Magazine that when students return to school, the first two weeks of the year will be dedicated to age-appropriate special activities. This allows the children to share their personal experiences in order to express their feelings living through a summer in which their lives were overshadowed by military conflict and terrorism instead of being able to enjoy their vacation.
“We’re starting the school year in an atypical manner, in order to get them back to a routine, since their summer certainly wasn’t the norm,” the official explains.
She says that this will involve group activities, discussion sessions, field trips and more.
In fact the ministry has designed and sent out a detailed educators’ manual broken down by grade level – kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school, giving teachers ideas for pressure- reliving and meaningful activities to achieve that normalcy usually brought about with the beginning of the school year.
Another distinction underscored in the various prepared materials takes into account the students’ proximity to the southern combat zone. A child returning to school in the Gaza periphery will partake in a specific set of activities focused on the experience of being under nearly constant rocket fire, while children further away will be given the resources to express themselves based on their personal summer tribulations.
Kineret Rozen-Edelman, a middle - and high-school English teacher in the Sha’ar Hanegev regional school just several kilometers from the Gaza border, is busy preparing for the new school year.
She says that while her school is fortified against rockets, “a big problem is the drive to school,” where students are exposed to the threat during their commute to and from the facility.
At this point Rozen-Edelman is preparing for two scenarios – that school will start on time and her students will arrive daily, or as was the case during Operation Pillar of Defense, two years ago, “there were days when the students stayed home and we taught them online.”
As of press time a debate was raging involving the Education Ministry, the heads of specific local municipalities under rocket fire, along with teachers and parents as to whether or not school should begin as scheduled in their areas due to the current security situation.
Either way, she says that unfortunately “these kids were born into this. They don’t know anything else [besides life under fire]. We have a routine, and they [the kids] know it. We [the teachers] are trained for this at this point.”
She says that when school starts, her goal is going to be “giving the students some of their summer back,” as she explains that many of her students and their families were moving around from place to place all summer away from home, traveling to areas that were not always under fire.
Therefore Rozen-Edelman says that she is preparing “activities which are more fun,” to start the year.
“It has to be structured,” she says.
“But the topics have to be less stress-inducing.”
Yochi Siman-Tov has been the director of stress management and emergency counseling services at the Education Ministry for the past 11 years. She was a key contributor to the materials that will be used by schools across the country to help them start the school year on the right foot.
She believes that the goal of the first two weeks of school is for the teachers to help their pupils “by giving them the tools to find meaning in their experiences.”
She says in addition to focusing on the children’s feelings, the educators should “stress hope,” allowing the children to use the individual tools they already possess to get on track.
“One kid might turn to sports, another to music, another to prayer; it’s these connections which widen their ability to cope.”
She adds that teachers need to pay attention to signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and if children are not themselves after a month or so, “then it’s important to get them additional treatment.”
Siman-Tov says that the ministry is already prepared for children in the South who might need various therapies whether it’s art therapy, movement, or another. She is a big believer in kids getting back to routine in general, saying that “routine is extremely therapeutic.”
RABBI ITAMAR Heikin is the principal at the Amit Modi’in High School for boys. In his former position as a teacher at the AMIT Gwen Straus Science-Technology High School in Kfar Batya, near Ra’anana, several years ago one of his students was Hadar Goldin. During the operation Sec.-Lt. Goldin was originally feared kidnapped, and later pronounced dead following a Hamas tunnel ambush near Rafah in the middle of a humanitarian cease-fire. Heikin was asked to speak at his former student’s funeral.
Heikin says he spent his summer shuttling between spending time with his current students from Modi’in, “to be close to them, and to allow them to discuss their feelings,” while also giving attention to the grieving Goldin family as well as his former students who knew the fallen soldier, to help them cope with the loss of their classmate.
He spent a great deal of time in the hospital visiting another former student, a soldier seriously wounded in a mortar attack.
Heikin says that he plans on giving a significant amount of time to his students when the school year starts, gauging how they are. He says that he unfortunately believes that the operation in Gaza will not be ending any time soon.
“When I was a boy, I remember the Yom Kippur War and I remember the bunkers,” he says. “I remember the song written by Yehoram Gaon ‘Hamilhama Ha’ahrona [The Last War],’ [and believed it would be the last] but that was stam [just one of many other wars to come].
When we open school this year, I will let my students know that the security of Israel will soon be on their shoulders. Nevertheless, I’m hoping for a quiet year.”