A place to grow

Nice title, isn’t it?  How do you like it as a name for a school?  Makom Ligdol – “a place to grow” in Hebrew – that’s the name of the school where I work.  It is a democratic school, situated in HaKfar HaYarok (the Green Village, in Hebrew).

HaKfar HaYarok is an amazing place.  It is part of the city of Ramat HaSharon, but not actually in the city.  It was founded in 1950 as a youth village, mostly for children of new immigrants and/or children who immigrated to Israel before their families joined them.  It was then an agricultural boarding school; today it is still that and much more.  The school has some boarding students, and many other day students – a total of over a thousand junior and senior high schoolers.

The village also hosts a branch of the Open University; an organic vegetable farm (besides the farm run by the school); two horse farms, including therapeutic riding; a branch of the Florentine Circus, where kids can learn acrobatics, juggling and more; a veterinary medical center; the Bowleby Center, where children can come for animal assisted therapy and animal care lessons; Touching Nature, a petting zoo; a Sculpture Garden; Bet Rioshka, an arts and crafts center; preschools of all kinds – and three “alternative” elementary schools – a Montessori school, a Waldorf (anthroposophic) school, and Makom Ligdol.

Democratic schools in Israel come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but they have a few basic things in common.  They all have a mechanism for self-governance – a Parliament of some sort, in which students, staff and parents have a vote, and decisions about everything at the school, from budget to recess rules, are made together by the community, in a democratic process.  There is also some sort of judiciary branch, for mediation and/or consequences of law-breaking or disputes.

Second, each student chooses his/her school schedule.  Regular school subjects are usually offered, as well as others (at Makom Ligdol, for example, we teach Origami, D and D Roleplay, a Harry Potter course, a storytelling lesson….).  In some schools, certain subjects are compulsory, but not in most.  Once a student signs up for a course, he/she is committed – but the decision is his/hers.  There are a few schools where there is no curriculum that was not specifically requested by a student.

Third, most, though not all, of the schools have teacher-advisors.  Every student has such a personal mentor whom he/she chooses.

And what does all this have to do Israel?  Well, Israel was the true pioneer of “The Third Wave” of schools (a refinement of “progressive education” to meet the changing times).  In 1987 Yaacov Hecht founded the first Democratic School in Israel, in the city of Hadera.  After the school was up and running, he set out to make contact with similar schools in the world – and was astonished to find there were virtually none like it.  He began to spread the word, and the rest is history.  IDEC, the International Democratic Education Conference, was first held in Israel in 1993.

At Makom Ligdol, a relatively new school, there are 46 students, aged 5-11.  Right now the school is private, but the Ministry of Education will probably give it official recognition this year.  Meanwhile, I am having a great time teaching English to students who are all in the class because they want to be, not because anyone is forcing them to enter.  With a big yard, a tree house, an herb garden, an art center, library and science room, a young, dedicated staff, and of course, Poyke, the big, friendly school dog, it’s a great place to grow!

Photo by Horacio Villalobos. Mobile Homes in One of Two Mobile Home Parks. They Were Created in Response to Workers Who Arrived for Jobs in the Town’s Manufacturing Plants Which Opened Since the 1950′s. Brown County, Minnesota, USA. 1975.

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