The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine
AMIT BRINGS THE 24/7 SUMMER CAMP EXPERIENCE TO SCHOOLS
As summer comes to an end and schools prepare to open their doors after a months’ long hiatus, one school network, AMIT, ensured its doors remained open.
In collaboration with the Forum for Summer Camps in Israel sponsored by the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation, AMIT held an exclusive summer camp program for its students.
"The Summer Camp initiative is part of the implementation of the central insight guiding the AMIT Network in recent years—and even more so since the coronavirus pandemic—that the emotional response to the student is a priority and is the basis for the success of every child," Dr. Amnon Eldar, CEO of AMIT, recently told The Jerusalem Post.
According to Eldar, education in 2022 should not be limited to learning subjects such as math and English, but rather must look at the student as a whole person, focusing on values-based education, significant and relevant learning experiences both inside and outside of the classroom, and meaningful connections between students and teachers.
AMIT is Israel's premier educational network, comprising of some 110 schools with over 40,000 students throughout the country. The majority of students enrolled in the network, some 70%, are from the social, economic, and geographical periphery of Israel.
"The AMIT Network is devoted to enriching the educational experience for children in the periphery, in order to promote them and provide them with the keys to a better future," he said. "The camp gives our students what they could not receive anywhere else."
Indeed, there are limited summer camp opportunities for children from the socio-economic periphery, and those that can be found often cost up to thousands of shekels, well beyond most families' means.
“The program's greatness is the opportunity to provide the unique experience of camp even to students whose families could not allow them similar experiences due to their financial situation. The program serves as a natural continuation to a year-long educational process at AMIT’s schools, building up leadership schools, focusing on a student’s strengths, and providing them with varied and unique opportunities to develop and make their voice heard,” he added.
This opportunity was made possible in collaboration with the Forum for Summer Camps in Israel, which seeks to promote over-night camp experiences in Israel.
"I believe that their vision and the around-theclock dedication of our educators will open new horizons for these children and teach them to dream big," Eldar said.
Anat Ben Dror, director of the Forum for Summer Camps in Israel told The Post that the summer camps aim to provide an informal educational setting for youth with added value that "combines recreation and fun while increasing self-confidence and the sense of personal competence."
According to Ben Dror, the idea is to change the leisure culture of youth in Israel during the summer, especially youth aged 11-16.
“Summer camp allows them the opportunity to disconnect from their phones and screens, and to reconnect with their peers and strengthen their self-confidence,” she said.
"Our camps are much more than a one-time summer experience; they are part of the identity design process and have a significant impact on the participants' functioning in school, in the afternoons and as part of society as a whole," she added.
THE SUMMER CAMP EXPERIENCE
“The summer camp initiative is outstanding both in terms of educational value and as a meaningful event for the students,” Yitzhak Friedman, head of AMIT’s 24/7 program, told The Post.
“We see summer as part of the ongoing educational activity throughout the year – learning out of the classroom,” he said.
As such, AMIT’s camp included a 10-day intensive experience in Northern Israel for hundreds of the Network’s students in grades 7-12.
Among the activities, the teens went surfing, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, and participated in workshops and seminars, met with Israelis from all sectors of society, visited pre-army mechinot and army bases, to name a few of the activities.
Additionally, the camp has a strict “no screens” policy and so the youth had to disconnect from their cell phones for 10 days.
“The first few days are always difficult, but afterwards we hear from the kids how happy they are to be without their phones and to experience this emotional interaction without distractions,” he said.
According to Friedman, the summer camp allows for educational continuity, “summarizing the past year and preparing for the next,” as well as for the establishment of a “coalition of educators.”
This innovative concept sees a student’s educators – from the principal to the teacher to the surfing instructor – all coming together for the benefit of the student.
“The youth can meet a variety of figures in summer camp and throughout the year – all of their
educators both formal and informal – and they learn that there are a wide variety of figures that they can connect to as a winning team,” he said.
He added that one of the main goals of the camp is to develop the students’ sense of self-confidence and personal growth.
“The coalition of educators allows each student to build a personal growth program based on various fields and interests and allows the school to build a continuity of morning and afternoon activities as well as during school vacations,” he said.
In fact, while the students participated in the summer camp, so too did their principals, teachers, and mentors.
Yizhar Afgan, principal of AMIT Ramle Technological High School, told The Post that the summer camp initiative allows his students to experience a summer vacation and provides them a much-needed solution to the holiday break.
“These are children that need challenges and intensive activities,” he said. “The summer camp builds a sense of belonging to the school and enhances their desire to come to school and study.”
This year is the second year that his students are participating in the summer camp, and he said that he can “feel the difference at school.”
“The summer camp brings forward their talents and abilities, leadership skills, and helps them deal with challenges,” he said. “The experience is really powerful and brings them together – both the students and the teachers – and leaves a significant mark.”
“You can see that their motivation, their sense of belonging, the meaning in what they do is different – you can see this, it really stands out,” he added.
A 24/7 APPROACH TO EDUCATION
While the summer camp initiative provides activities for the summer break, AMIT’s 24/7 program provides a response to the needs of their students all year round.
"The AMIT Network leads innovative programs under the approach of the student as a whole," Friedman said. "If in the past the school saw itself as a place for imparting knowledge, today we understand that in the 21st century the school needs to offer a holistic approach."
As such, Friedman explained that the 24/7 program, of which the summer camp is an extension, aims to build an "educational journey" for the student.
"Through this approach we developed 24/7, which gives students access to many segments and branches of education in different fields, all under the roof of the school," he said.
As such, each student builds a year-long personal growth program based on their interests, from outdoor sports activities such as surfing, climbing, hiking, and sports, to the technology and sciences, entrepreneurship, cyber and coding, and the arts.
"This is a very important skill for us, and so we view an activity like surfing as part of the personal growth program of each student, because it connects directly to the rest of their educational endeavors by providing them with confidence that they then transfer to other areas of their studies,” he said.
The afterschool activities are directly intertwined with the students’ academic studies and often cross over through school projects and the coalition of educators, who “exchange notes” on each student to gain a better understanding of their strengths and abilities.
Moshe Jacobs, head of the 24/7 program at AMIT Sderot Religious Jr. and Sr. High School told The Post that the summer camp and afterschool programs allow the educators to "see the children in a different light."
"Maybe the student was having difficulty in class but then the teacher can see another side to them, they are now able to see the whole person," he said. "This is a very unique experience for the teachers, they also gain the tools to view their students as a whole and to see their strengths and other traits and the responsibility that they carry."
Jacobs said that over 75% of the student body in Sderot, a town in Israel's southern periphery located less than a mile from the border with Gaza, participates in the 24/7 program.
"We give the students something they want, we provide them with a tailor-made program based on their likes and interests so they can understand that school is not only a place to experience friction but to realize their full potential – something you choose to learn and are not forced to learn," he said.
Jacobs explained that the city of Sderot, in looking towards the future of its children, has in recent years promoted the study of cyber and coding among youth.
As such, he explained that the 24/7 program provides the opportunity for students to not only learn coding in an afterschool setting but allows them to "intertwine this aspiration into their daily studies."
"Often times if a student is learning cyber or coding or entrepreneurship, then in English class they will work on a pitch for an idea relating to these projects," he said. "We want the students to speak the same language – one that interests them and runs throughout their lives in a multidisciplinary approach."
Yehonathan Nagar, a 12th grade student at AMIT Ramle, told The Post that the summer camp experience "changed my life."
"At first it was not easy for me to disconnect from my phone and take part in such intense activities with other kids," he said.
This is the second year that Nagar participated in the summer camp, which he credits with giving him a boost of self-confidence and a sense of belonging at school.
"Before the summer camp I wasn't a very social person, I didn't really have a strong group of friends, but now I really feel like I got to know 'the guys' more than I ever would have just in school," he said. "To be outside of school in all kinds of situations that nobody knew we would be in, to participate in activities we never imagined we would take part in – a – I really feel that I got to know everyone, and they got to know me."
"We don't just say hi and walk by like we used to, now there is a different atmosphere, more of a sense of community," he added. "Coming to school was more fun, because we got to see each other, but it also makes us think about ourselves, not just in the academic sense but beyond that."
Nagar, who is set to enlist in the army after the completion of his studies, said that one of the most impactful activities at the summer camp was visiting with IDF soldiers on base and hearing from them firsthand.
"I was on a track not to go to the army, and now I decided that I would enroll in a pre-army mechina, and also enlist – me, who would have thought?" he said.
He also said that this sense of belonging he now feels throughout the year has also caused him to want to give back to the community.
“My friends and I started a mentoring initiative for younger kids in elementary school and middle school," he said. “I also started to volunteer, not because someone told me to, but because I felt it was the right thing to do.”
"Everything that AMIT taught me has given me a lot today. I don’t have the fears that I did at the beginning of the year when I was having difficulty socially and it was hard for me to speak with other kids in school. Now I feel more open," he added. "This has been the best year and a half of my life, not just for me but all my friends, who say the same."