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Technology creates an education bridge
October 14th, 2005
Nicolet students meet their peers via videoconference
At first the images on the television monitor wavered blurrily and the voices being broadcast were strangely disjointed. Then suddenly the picture snapped into focus.
Seated in front of full-sized Israeli and American flags, 31 high school students were visible. They looked so much like their American counterparts it was impossible to tell that they were Israelis.
On the screen a female teacher spoke in English with an American accent. Hello, Susie, can you hear me? she said to Nicolet Hebrew teacher Suzanne Weinstein.
Weinstein and 10 of the 11 Nicolet High School students in her most advanced class, Hebrew 5 Accelerated, (the 11th student is studying in Jerusalem this semester) faced the monitor from their seats at the Coalition for Jewish Learning conference room on the Karl Jewish Community Campus the morning of Oct. 2.
Though it was Sunday, they were there to study with the Israeli students in Aviva Shapiros English class at a Jordan Valley high school, Beit Yerach. For them, Sunday is a school day, but the time difference between Milwaukee and the Jordan Valley necessitated a late school day; it was 5:00 p.m. there.
Using video-conferencing equipment, the two classes were able to virtually be in the same place at the same time. They could see and hear each other; ask questions and hear the replies of the same speaker and compare opinions on their respective rights and responsibilities.
Shapiro said that Beit Yerach and Nicolet have been working together for a few years through the Education Bridge program of Partnership 2000, which pairs Milwaukee with the Sovev Kinneret, the region around the Sea of Galilee.
She said she met Weinstein by chance in Jerusalem last summer while Shapiro was attending an English teachers conference. And the two began talking about a cooperative project.
Based on academic requirements in Israel, Shapiro chose the classes shared topic Janusz Korczak, a Jewish physician and expert on children, who tried to save and ultimately died at Treblinka with 192 orphans from the Warsaw Ghetto.
Shapiros students read Korczaks novel King Matt the First, a childrens story that incorporates his ideas about childrens rights, in English.
Then she invited the last surviving graduate of Korczaks orphanage, the Israeli artist Itzchak Belfer, to come and be interviewed by the two classes in Hebrew, using videoconferencing technology.
The Nicolet students, like the Israelis, learned about Korczak and his heroic efforts to create positive, normal lives for the Jewish orphans of Warsaw, and prepared questions to ask Belfer.
They also contemplated Korczaks philosophy on childrens rights, which was totally way out for his time, Weinstein said.
For several weeks prior to the videoconference the students communicated via the Internet in small groups three Israelis and one American. They got to know each other and prepared for the class with Belfer.
Do you think that knowing Korczak made you a better father? Nicolet sophomore Eliana Weber asked Belfer during the interview.
There were words I didnt know Eliana said of the Hebrew discussion, but she did understand most of what was said. It was amazing to talk to someone who was there with Korczak.
Weinstein agreed. I really felt the historical impact of meeting Belfer, as Ive gone through and prepared myself and my students. Ive learned so much about Korczak; Im in awe of the man, she said.
And I was pleased and proud of my students. There was no chit-chat, no talking. They were all there before 9:00 a.m., ready to go, Weinstein added, noting that many of the her Hebrew students had attended Nicolets Homecoming Dance the night before, and had probably gotten very little sleep.
As for Shapiro, though there was a lot of time spent in getting prepared, the videoconference gave her students experience in meeting the world. She said I am happy to be a link between American youth and Israeli youth . I feel it is extremely important to foster good relationships between the two communities in order to strengthen American Jewry.
The Nicolet students plan to help the Israeli students, using their computer forum, with the next part of their study of Korczak in which they will research and write reports on childrens rights, in English.
Shapiro hopes to be able to set up another videoconference this winter to share their project results.
And not all of these students were meeting for the first time. Three of the students in Shapiros classroom on Oct. 2 visited Milwaukee last summer as part of P2Ks Teen Mifgash.
Nicolet junior Noam Macagon, a participant in last summers exchange, recognized Omri Kuperstein, Shira Silat and Eitam Sheffer on the television monitor and Shapiro said they too were excited about seeing Noam.
Shapiro also pointed out, in an e-mail interview, that her former student Einav Gafni is living here as a Shin Shinit, an Israel emissary through P2K and the Milwaukee Jewish Federations Israel Center.
This event is just part of P2Ks goal to foster people-to-people relationships. The partnership continues to build and build, said P2K coordinator Roslyn Roucher, smiling.
According to CJL executive director Steven Baruch, Ph.D., this was the first time that the two-year-old videoconferencing equipment was used for a meeting with Israel. It was purchased with a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, the federations endowment development.
To this point, it has been used mostly for the Laura and Alvin Siegal College of Judaic Studies distance learning masters degree program, he said.