For two weeks in April, Brookwood hosted a group of six students and two teachers from the Ilut Middle School in Ilut, Israel. A middle school for Israeli Arab students in grades six to eight, Ilut is in the Galilea region, located about eight miles west of Nazareth.
The visit is the result of a relationship that began online in January 2016 between Brookwood’s Director of Technology Doug Fodeman and Ilut Middle School English Teacher Kefah Lahwani. That relationship quickly included Brookwood sixth grade teachers Evan Diamond and Maile Black, to support curriculum in Brookwood’s sixth grade World Cultures class. In March 2016, Doug visited the Ilut school during a trip to Israel, further deepening the connection between the schools.
I met with Maile and Evan to discuss how I might bring back a current and relevant ‘voice’ from students in Israel to our sixth grade students. We thought it would be wonderful if I were able to meet and interview both Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish students. I used the collaborative site iEarn.org to locate and connect with Mrs. Kefah Lahwani, Ilut’s Middle School English teacher.
The Ilut students, who range in age from 12 to 15, and their teachers (Kefah Lahwani and Nofuz Khateeb – Ilut Middle School History Teacher and Grade Seven Administrator), lived with Brookwood families during their stay, learning about life in American homes as well as sharing aspects of their culture. During the school day the students attended classes with their sixth and eighth grade Brookwood peers and visited classes in the Lower and Middle Schools. There they met children and teachers from other grades, gave presentations about their own school, homes and culture. In some classes the Ilut students taught the Brookwood students games, and a little Arabic, and in others they did special projects like cooking favorite dishes. The Ilut guests also presented a traditional Arab dabka (dance) for the entire school and one of their students, a trained dancer, danced hip hop to modern Arab music.
In the weeks leading up to their visit I met with teachers in all grades throughout Brookwood, and together we planned interactive and engaging activities so that the Ilut students could share aspects of their culture while at the same time learning from something about our Brookwood students.
“This visit was so fulfilling for the Brookwood community in many ways,” Doug says. “It has served to tear down stereotypes and build bridges for both communities. Deep friendships have grown from what was once a wide divide,” he explains. “Conversations between our guests and Brookwood students and host families have sometimes concerned common stereotypes, and both groups have made an effort to understand and respect each others religious and cultural practices.”
“The trip was mutually beneficial because of how authentically we were able to share elements of one another’s culture and at the same time broaden our learning, considering that the sixth graders study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have a really deep understanding of the type of cultural environment from which these students come from in Israel” says Evan Diamond, grade 6 teacher and Head of Upper School.