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Cultivating Scientific Growth after the Carmel Fires: World ORT, a Catalyst for Change

Standing on the school stage is a geekishly dressed man in a white coat with oversized science goggles on his face. He is animatedly demonstrating a chemical reaction to a sea of interested pupils, bringing to life the textbook formulae. It's the end of the school year and the summer vacation is beckoning enticingly, yet these pupils are rapt. The man is 'Dr Molecular', the pupils are from schools around the Carmel region and this is a science day at a World ORT funded school in Kiryat Yam.  

On June 16th, 120 students from the Schiffman School, Tirat HaCarmel, were transported to the ORT-funded Rodman School in Kiryat Yam for an interactive work shop based on the importance of the environment.

World ORT-funded Rodman School, JFNA
World ORT-funded Rodman School
The Kiryat Yam Rodman High School, a recipient of millions of dollars from Jewish Federations’ historic partner World ORT and American donor, Betty Schoenbaum, is a hub of educational activity for students of all ages and frequently plays host to schools from around the region. The students involved this Thursday, had witnessed the savagery of the Carmel forest fires up close and a main premise for the outing lay in the reeducation of the children's relationship to the natural environment surrounding them.

Jewish Federations raised some $2.7 million to help Israel respond and recover from the Carmel Forest fires that killed 44 people, scorched more than 10,000 acres of pine forest and burned 100 homes and structures.

Allocations have been made to programs that included the provision of trauma relief services for residents of the region and firefighters directly affected by the Carmel wildfires, supplemental trauma-related training for professionals and para-professionals, direct assistance to the children of victims' families and specific programmatic needs for the students of the Yemin Orde Youth Village. This day of activities was the first of six days following the same model; the other five days will be in the fall when school is back in session. Each time, a different school from the Carmel Region will be brought in.

Junior high school teacher at the Schiffman School, Yael Kedem accompanied her science students to the entertaining and educational day-long workshop so that they could learn not only about the damage to the world's essential vegetation caused by the fires but also about the integral importance of cultivating plant growth and preserving the world's resources. Explaining the focus of the day as 'ecology, recycling, nature preservation and how it is possible to return nature to the pre-fire situation ', Kedem stressed the impact of the blaze on the children; 'The students at Tirat HaCarmel witnessed the tragedy. Learning about nature in relation to the fire gives them a sense of the place in which they live: the Carmel forest is their back yard. '

Having felt the effect of the Carmel fires on an intensely individual level, they were drawn to expand their vision of the events to identify the catastrophe on a national level. The one-day program engendered a sense of environmental global accountability, with children being responsible for the natural environment in which they reside. Rather than considering nature as an automatic source of danger and enmity, the students were encouraged to be its guardians. 'Every generation', says Kedem, 'enjoys less from the earth because each generation uses up a little bit more. We are continuously increasing in number, yet we are not decreasing the amount of demands that we make of the earth. If we don't act, then no one will - it begins, first of all, with children.'

Kedem emphasized the need 'to look after nature, to recycle.'  The resources at Rodman School are used for all ages; however this program was created specifically for children, 'Primarily because children are the next generation.  They are the greatest consumers. If children themselves can understand that they should demand less from the world, then more will remain.' Learning what's recyclable and why it's necessary to recycle, the children were encouraged to 'reduce purchases, to lessen the use of disposable products'. The message of the day encouraged an awareness that there are ways to protect nature; we don't have to render our natural surroundings to a state of total vulnerability.

Liya and Or, two 7th grade students from the Schiffman middle school, who participated in the science program, were keen and enthusiastic to describe the events of the day. 'We watched a film about the Galaxy – that was the most fun; it was interesting to learn in the form of a film. We performed experiments, some in connection to the fires and some not.' The cohort was shown the onsite Planetarium and images of shooting stars to put their localized instruction into a wider universal framework.

'Experiential and not theoretical: it's mandatory', insists Nechama Kenig, Pedagogical Educational Coordinator education at ORT, 'to depart from the normal routine, the day to day schedule of studies with the pupils sitting

World ORT Rodman School, JFNA
environmental fun
opposite the teacher, passively waiting to be taught’. The educational staff was keen on the departure from the daily drudgery, 'It's worth it, contends Kenig, ' it's always the same way, a teacher speaks and the children listen. Why not take a break from that?' For example, the elementary game 'Snakes and Ladders' was used to teach about scientific processes, how to prevent a fire and what action to implement after a fire has been extinguished. Kenig's reminder that, 'The fire began with children not understanding the impact their playful actions could have', is all the more poignant when Liya and Or take time at the end of their packed day to reiterate, 'It's great fun! We really enjoyed it - thank you for the activities that you organized'.

Even the way the school is constructed elicits a feeling of positive learning from the pupils, 'A clean, ordered, spacious environment lends itself to learning, testifies Kenig. 'The ambient environment is one in which it is pleasant and fun to learn; when the atmosphere among the pupils changes, the success of their learning follows suit. Immediately the students behave differently.  Their mentality changes, they are more serious.' 

Smart boards in classrooms funded by World ORT allow for differentiated ability among the pupils. Each pupil can access the learning material and digest it at his or her own pace. The school focuses its attentions on science, art, physics, chemistry and biology. There are many interactive models that are used which, when you touch them, come to life. World ORT also sponsors technology competitions both within the school and on a national level, exciting students about robotics. The programs teach students to design robots, connecting a variety of scientific subjects. Electronic voting kits are available in class; when the teacher asks a question, the pupils can answer, free from the embarrassment of peer critique. This encourages them to participate more in their learning instead of becoming estranged from the educational system. The learning style is 'varied and firsthand', says Kenig, 'The students have sparks in their eyes – they're so excited to come to school.'

World ORT, through financial investment in these programs, has provoked an innate excitement for learning in these young people who can absorb the same teaching via an alternative pedagogical method. Simply put, 'It's fun': a sentiment verified by the day's participants. Perhaps World ORT's investment in these children is the spark that will ignite a new generation ardent about science and protecting the environment.


by Tikva Schein



World ORT science day, Rodman School, JFNA
World ORT Rodman School, JFNA
Lesson on the environment