Teach For America and Teach First Israel Join Forces to Build a Global Movement to End Educational Inequity

In just a few short hours, 57 up-and-coming U.S. change agents will be on their way to Israel to connect with local peers and leaders – and their counterparts at Teach First Israel – through the REALITY Israel Experience for Teach For America corps members program. While here, they will learn from one another on how best to inspire students in disadvantaged areas to succeed in school and to work on a communal vision of educational equality.

The encounter is just one stop for Teach For America corps members on the REALITY Israel Experience program, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and the Samberg Family Foundation in partnership with Teach For America and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators. The 10-day trip is designed to introduce corps members to Israel’s education and social justice systems, give them exposure to top Israeli leaders and thinkers, and help them uncover and recommit to the values that drive their passion for public service.

Speaking on behalf of both foundations, Lynn Schusterman told eJP, “By partnering with Teach For America to create the REALITY program, we hope to inspire corps members to embark on meaningful engagement with their personal journeys and with Israel, as well as cultivate long-term dedication toward Jewish community involvement and service.”

Both Teach For America and Teach First Israel are based on a simple but powerful concept: Enlist top college graduates to become lifelong champions for educational equity by first recruiting them to teach for two years with students from low-income backgrounds. They are both part of the Teach For All network – a collection of independent social enterprises working to expand educational opportunities in their respective countries – and are highly selective. Last year, 48,000 people applied for 5,200 spots with Teach For America. Similarly, Teach First Israel chose 90 out 1,400 applicants for the coming school year. In 2011-2012, it will be expanding from Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Haifa, Horfeish, Holon, Bat Yam, Petach Tikva and Or Yehuda to include schools in Lod, Acco, Kiryat Shmona, Arad and Dimona.

The participants in the 2011 REALITY Israel Experience come from a wide background of experiences, including:

  • Jessica Bero, who worked as a chef before joining Teach For America, helping to turn around Kansas City’s largest soup kitchen by bringing students in as kitchen staff.
  • Eric Poris, a math teacher at American Horse School on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota and the only Jew on the reservation. He has also taught in the Swiss Alps, Brazil and Peru.
  • Leora Sher, who taught adolescent AIDS awareness in the villages of South Africa before she began teaching in Chicago.

The REALITY Israel Experience introduces corps members to key Israeli figures in the education and social action movements, and to trailblazing Israeli initiatives like B’Maagalei Tzedek, Atid Bamidbar and Friends of the Earth. Not only will participants examine the values that drive their commitment to public service, they will also explore the connection between Jewish values, public service and how the two reinforce each other.

REALITY trips for Teach for America corps members were also conducted in the summers of 2009 and 2010, and the impact of the visit to Israel has been profound. According to The REALITY Israel Experience: An Impact Study, it strengthens the link between participants’ Jewish identity and passion for service while deepening their commitment to social justice and the Teach For America mission.

Rachel Brody, who currently calls D.C. home, embodies REALITY’s transformational power. Before she participated in the first REALITY trip in 2009, she had never been involved in the Jewish community nor did she connect her dedication to teaching students with disabilities to Jewish values. Today she is a participant in the PresenTense Global Institute Fellowship in Jerusalem, where she is working on GIM, or Global Inclusion Movement, which will work with Jewish community centers to integrate people with disabilities into the broader community.

“I had never felt any connection with Israel or felt particularly Jewish,” Brody said. “Coming here on REALITY, I learned a lot about Israel and Judaism. I felt a connection with Judaism that I did not feel before. I especially identified with tikkun olam and tzedaka.”

Indeed, the REALITY Israel Experience anticipated the finding of the recently released Volunteering + Values: A Repair the World Report on Jewish Young Adults – a study that underscored the need for programs that help young Jews see their volunteerism through the lens of a Jewish framework to ensure an active, enduring commitment to service and to strengthen the Jewish community’s social impact.

“Meetings such as these expand their horizons, enrich their perspective, enable them to see that they are not alone and that teachers in other countries experience similar situations,” said Asaf Banner, CEO and Co-Founder of Teach First Israel, a joint initiative of the Ministry of Education, JDC-Israel, HaKol Hinuch and the Naomi Foundation. “This peer-to-peer opportunity to share tips, knowledge and best practices is empowering. They will come out of it more motivated, knowing they are part of a global movement of young leaders who want to create a better future for children around the world.”

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

image: 2010 REALITY participants; courtesy REALITY Israel Experience