70 U.S. Educators in Israel to Explore Leadership, Education System

REALITY Israel Experience corp member (r) in dialogue with an Israeli Arab teacher (l) at the College of Sakhnin for Teacher Education, during a program organized by the Galilee Foundation for Value Education; summer 2011.

Jerusalem – July 15, 2012 – On July 17th, 70 U.S. educators will visit Israel as part of a leadership development program designed to deepen their commitment to education reform and service. They will explore alternative models of education and methods of approaching complex societal challenges, including how Israeli schools address issues of co-existence, religion and minority populations.

As part of their 12-day experience, they will meet with leading Israeli educators and social entrepreneurs, including Einat Wilf, Member of Knesset and Chair of its Education, Sports and Culture Committee, as well as Nir Tzuk, Managing Director of Ashoka Israel. They will also be introduced to trailblazing Israeli initiatives such as The Center for Educational Technology.

The educators are participating in the REALITY Israel program, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Samberg Family Foundation, in partnership with Teach For America. They are all part of Teach For America, the national nonprofit that recruits and trains outstanding individuals of all academic disciplines to commit two years to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the movement to end educational inequity. While in Israel, they will meet with their counterparts in Teach First Israel, a similar program that launched in 2010 and now has 143 teachers working in 33 schools across Israel.

“These inspiring young leaders are among those powering the education reform movement that is sweeping our country and our world,” said Lynn Schusterman, Chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, which includes the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “REALITY enables them to learn from each other while challenging them to build their leadership skills and examine the values that drive their commitment to creating change in their communities, in the Jewish world and beyond.”

Now in its fourth year, REALITY Israel has brought more than 200 Teach For America educators to Israel. As part of this unique program, corps members explore Israel through a service and education lens, as well as engage in self-reflection and learning that connects their secular service work as teachers to Jewish values and ideas. Among those participating in the 2012 REALITY Israel experience are:

  • Amy Berkhoudt, a high school English and journalism teacher in Detroit, who worked with the Detroit Youth Food Brigade to pair high school students with local businesses and urban farms in the area. The daughter of immigrants, Amy was the first in her family to attend and graduate from college.
  • Katherine Hagan, an 8th grade teacher in Las Vegas who is launching an arts camp for at-risk students with funding from Downtown Project, an organization started by Tony Hsieh – founder of Zappos, the world’s largest online shoe store – to revitalize Las Vegas.
  • Nina Safene, who co-founded Colorado’s first single-gender public school – Girls Athletic Leadership School in Denver – where she now works as the school’s Response to Intervention Coordinator.
  • George Stern, a high school teacher in Colorado, who previously taught at Rikers Island Jail in New York.

For most participants in the REALITY program, it is their first visit to Israel, and the impact of the experience has proven to be profound. According to the REALITY Israel Experience: An Impact Study, the program strengthens the link between participants’ Jewish identity, values and passion for public service while deepening their commitment to education reform and the Teach For America movement.

“Israel is a classroom for people who want to learn about leadership in the face of extreme challenges,” said Andrew Mandel, Teach For America’s Vice President of Special Projects. “Many of the social justice challenges Israel faces mirror those in the U.S., and our participants get the opportunity to grapple with how best to address those complex issues.”

According to Mandel, what began with REALITY is spreading to the entire Teach For America network. “It’s an incubator for new ideas and has opened the door for us to do more reflective programming with our corps members, professional staff and students,” he said.

Several REALITY participants have already begun implementing programming for their students that allows them to reflect upon what it means to be a leader and to live by their values. Daniel Sass, a teacher and head soccer coach at Digital Harbor High School in Baltimore, Md., is one such an example. After participating on the 2011 REALITY trip, during which he met a teacher working with refugee students in the Golan Heights, Sass recognized a parallel with his own work – a large number of his students were also refugees from Ethiopia, Iraq, Nepal, Sudan, Somalia and Tanzania, among other countries.

“The same cultural, ethnic and religious diversity that moved me in Israel was now presenting itself in the form of my varsity soccer team, and I was given the task of making them coexist as teammates,” Sass said. “It took me by surprise and forced me to reexamine the needs of the community in which I teach.”

In doing so, Sass became involved with an organization that uses soccer as a platform for dialogue and education in its work with marginalized youth. Today, in addition to teaching, Sass coaches Baltimore’s under-18 soccer team, all 20 of whom are refugees. Sass credits REALITY and his experience in Israel with inspiring him to take on the role.

Building on its success, REALITY is expanding to include two new Israel-based programs that will launch in the next year. REALITY Global will be geared to corps members in the global Teach For All network, a collection of independent social enterprises working to expand educational opportunities in more than 30 countries. REALITY Pro will offer an Israel-based experience for Teach For America professionals with affiliations and interests in Jewish life.

“Our goal is to help exceptional people see leadership through a values-rich framework,” said Adam Simon who, as Associate National Director of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, directs REALITY. “We are exploring how we can expand this model to help build a network of leaders who act on deeply held values to enact positive social change and lead richer, more meaningful Jewish lives.”

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the REALITY suite of programs are part of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network, a global network of philanthropic initiatives focused on igniting the power in young people to create change for themselves, in the Jewish community and across the broader world. CLSPN also includes the Schusterman Foundation-Israel and ROI Community.

For more information about the REALITY Israel Experience program, please visit tfaisraelexperience.org.