Two St. Louis Teachers Chosen
for REALITY Israel Experience
Jerusalem—July 12, 2011–St. Louis Teach for America corps members Elie Blimes and David Schnall are among the 57 Teach for America corps members who were selected to participate in a special Israel program.
Elie, who is originally from Connecticut, studied government at Cornell University. Currently, he teaches social studies at Sumner High School in St. Louis, the first high school for African-Americans west of the Mississippi. He also coaches tennis and enjoys running. Although he wants to go to law school, he deferred doing so to join Teach for America. Elie said he participated in this trip because it was an excellent opportunity to connect Jewish values of social justice to the work that he does everyday in the classroom. "After seeing the parallels between the challenges facing Israel and those facing education in Saint Louis, I have a better idea about what it will take to close the achievement gap in our community."
David teaches high school world literature and world history to 10 graders. He grew up in San Diego, CA, and was a global studies major at the University of California, Santa Barbara. While in college, he worked on a variety of domestic and international human rights issues.
Top Teach For America corps members met with their Teach First Israel counterparts to learn from one another 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 (CLSFF) and the Samberg Family Foundation in partnership with Teach For America and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators. The 10-day trip introduced corps members to Israel’s education and social justice systems, gave them exposure to top Israeli leaders and thinkers, and helped them uncover and recommit to the values that drive their passion for public service.
“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,” said Lynn Schusterman, chair of CLSFF, speaking on behalf of both foundations.
“Our gathering will not stop at trading teaching tips,” said Andrew Mandel, Teach For America’s Vice President of Interactive Learning and Engagement. “It involves sharing what we are learning from our experiences in the classroom and what larger changes it suggests we must make in our respective countries on behalf of our students and communities.”
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 REALITY Israel Experience introduces corps members, leaders in their own right, 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 did participants examine the values that drive their commitment to public service, they also explored 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 is 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 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 PresenTense Fellow in Jerusalem, where she is working on AIM, or Abilities Inclusion Movement, a social start-up that will train and certify organizations and businesses to integrate people with disabilities.
“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. As reported by CNN, this study 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.
“It is our hope,” said Adam Simon, CLSFF’s Associate National Director, “that the success of the REALITY program will encourage future partnerships with secular service organizations, as well as become a model for engaging young Jews in service as a way to lead richer, more meaningfully Jewish lives.”
The encounter also promises great benefits to the Teach First Israel participants, who have just completed the program’s inaugural year.
“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 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 www.tfaisraelexperience.org.