This is just one in a series of ongoing posts on the educational innovations in Israel. You can see additional coverage here.
When you think of disadvantaged youth, it's not uncommon for images of teenagers hanging on the streets, drugs, incarceration and a dead end future to come to mind. But what if there was a way to help these young people find a new direction where their lives had meaning and purpose?
On day one of my tour with Vibe Israel to learn about education in the country, I discovered this was a reality at a youth village in a place called Mevo'ot Yam. Here, a surfboard and a wet suit become a gateway to a future that is as wide open as the Mediterranean Sea that is the classroom to these students. Mevo'ot Yam Youth Village looks like a tropical resort, but instead it is home to disadvantaged youth who build crucial life skills such as goal setting, endurance, and inner confidence by learning to ride the waves of a surfboard and navigate the sea. Equally important is the realization for many of the youth that they can play a part in the shaping of the sea and the world.
One of the students (captured below) explained the plight of the clown fish made popular by the movie "Finding Nemo." After the movie, divers would risk damaging the sea ecosystem to capture these fish for sale. The solution to ending this problem was to breed clown fish so that the capture of those in the wild would no longer be necessary. This student learned an important lesson that is gaining popularity far and wide with the Maker Movement. It's better to breed (aka make) something, than to make something. At the school they learn to breed endangered species that can help the oceanic ecosystem.
It doesn't take much time at the Mevo'ot Yam Youth Village before you forget that you are at school for disadvantaged youth and realize that you are at school filled with young researchers and activists who have been empowered to use the sea as a vehicle to make their world a better place. These young people are not our future. They are our now. They work with experts from Universities and organizations to solve real problems today. They are assessed by how they work to solve these problems, creative dialogue they engage in about these problems, and their ability to present their findings in real world contexts. The students are also responsible for helping to build and grow the grounds on which they learn and in the case of 400 students where they also live.
When students graduate, they are invited to come back to the center and use the facilities and equipment anytime. What would happen if our governments traded some of the funding currently used for incarceration for a home such as this for our youth? There is much to be learned from school systems in the United States and elsewhere about the success that can be realized when we provide disadvantaged youth with opportunities for a present and future filled with hope, promise, and the vast sea.
Photo credit: Amit Shemesh