The four-day rocket barrage against Israel’s south has vindicated the way World ORT supports education in the country.
Investment in rocket proof buildings, the introduction of new technology, the creation of a network, and simply providing understanding and solidarity have all come to the fore during the terrorists’ onslaught during which some 200 rockets exploded on Israeli territory, including the towns of Ashdod, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva.
Only one of the World ORT-affiliated schools in the region “ﾓ Makif Aleph in Be’er Sheva “ﾓ had to close: like other schools in the area, it is not built to withstand a rocket strike and its shelters can accommodate only a fraction of its 1,700 students. “This is the main problem here,”? said Smadar Avidan, Makif Aleph’s Innovation Leader. “Attacks on areas close to Gaza have not stopped for a decade so schools within seven kilometres of the border have either been rebuilt with reinforced structures or have had sufficient safety rooms provided. But it’s only recently that bigger missiles have been used against us which have brought Be’er Sheva and other cities into range. I don’t see how our situation can be improved because it will cost a lot of money and the government isn’t going to do it soon.”?
The closure of schools undoubtedly saved lives: an elementary school in Makif Aleph’s neighbourhood suffered a direct hit from a rocket on Sunday.
World ORT is building a science and technology centre as part of a new, rocket-proof campus at Sha’ar HaNegev High School, just two kilometres from the Gaza border. It is not due to open until the new academic year but the existing campus has sufficient shelters to have allowed it to stay open throughout the past four days. The greatest challenge was attendance.
“Parents are afraid to put their children on the bus after what happened last year so a lot of children, especially the younger ones, are not coming even though the teachers are here and want to teach,”? Innovation Leader Zohar Nir Levi said, referring to last April’s firing of an anti-tank missile at a bus carrying Sha’ar HaNegev students resulting in the death of a 16-year-old boy.
Shikma High School, a World ORT-affiliated school south of Ashkelon, was rebuilt 18 months ago by the Government to withstand rocket attacks but as the attacks continued the number of students risking the journey to and from the school’s sanctuary declined.
“Yesterday, about half of our 450 students came; today it was about one-third,”? said Ofra Halperin, a senior teacher at the school, on Monday. “We’re trying to maintain normality but it’s very difficult.”?
As the school’s Innovation Leader, it is Ms Halperin who champions new technologies and innovative pedagogy provided by World ORT. At Sha’ar HaNegev, assignments and materials were made available to students via the Internet so that they could study at home and, as the situation continued, Ms Halperin discussed with colleagues how to use their new Interactive Whiteboards and other equipment to do the same.
A benefit of being part of World ORT’s network is that she was able to discuss how to do this with colleagues at other schools, in this instance Orna Tsur, Innovation Leader at Nofey Habsor High School, another World ORT-affiliated school, in nearby Eshkol.
Like Shikma, Nofey Habsor has a newly-built, reinforced campus which means that its 860 students do not even have to leave their classes if a red alert sounds.
“Last Monday, all 8 th grade children studied at home while we provided lessons over the Internet. The experiment was very successful. Today I sent details of our experience and the website we have created for the purpose to Shikma,”? Ms Tsur said on Monday.
Teachers made an extraordinary effort to “maintain normality”?, not least by exposing themselves to danger by continuing to make the commute to work. But the sad irony is that rocket attacks have become part of the routine of living in the area.
“We’ve had this situation before, where missiles have closed schools, but then we go back to life as normal. Once this situation ends I suppose we’ll have a few quiet months and then it will start again,”? said Ms Avidan from her home near Be’er Sheva.
During the barrage she made a point of phoning students to see how they were coping and found stoicism spread across the age spectrum.
“They’re afraid but they’re calm; they’re used to it. They feel secure in their homes and they’re sure that the army will deal with it in the best way. They’re patiently waiting for the end of it like they have before. But they’re sure this won’t be the last time,”? she said on Monday.
At Shikma, Ms Halperin said: “The children are frightened; they have to talk a lot about it and their feelings. The older ones are making jokes but it’s to keep their spirits up so that they can cope with the situation. Everyone feels a little bit unsafe.”?
It was a similar story in Eshkol where Ms Tsur said: “It’s not so nice but that’s the situation we have every few months. We’re used to it; we don’t think about it too much otherwise we couldn’t go on living here.”?
But, tellingly, Ms Tsur added: “Thank you for caring; it gives us strength.”?
The emotional support which comes from being part of World ORT’s international family is, clearly, appreciated; as Ms Avidan said, “It’s very important to us to have international support but it’s not easy to get it. We’re not understood overseas because in the news they decide who is more damaged “ﾓ you hear about the dead and if no-one is dead then it must be okay. But you can’t live under terror every day. You can’t see that anyone in England would allow their population to be bombed every day with missiles.”?