Tuesday, July 14, 2020 2:30 PM
Despite Coronavirus, summer activities at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence continue –in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines, of course.
This summer, high school students in Nof HaGalil are expanding their horizons like never before, thanks the entrepreneurship and app development program run by KKL-JNF House in this outlying Israeli town.
Local high school students are participating in a course for entrepreneurship and applications development taking place this summer at the KKL-JNF House for Excellence in Nof HaGalil.
“When I heard about the course, I jumped at the opportunity immediately,” said 15 year-old Eli Shushansky, a student at Alon High School.
The purpose of the course is to expose high school students to a new field and to give them tools that will help them integrate into the high-tech field in the future. The program facilitator is Daniel Gutkin, who is currently studying information security at university. “At this stage of my studies I could’ve found a job already in the hi-tech industry, but I felt that this project was an educational mission,” he said. “I try to give the teenagers things that I never had when I was their age. It’s really moving to see how curious and thirsty for knowledge they are.”
KKL-JNF Excellency House Director Shimon Abuhatzira noted that there are supplementary tutorials and enrichment studies at KKL-JNF House all year long. During the summer, there is a preparatory program for ninth-grade students in order to prepare them for their next year at high school. “The participants study, enjoy and take part in value-oriented and fun activities,” he said.
The applications course is only one example of the many and diverse activities that take place at KKL-JNF House, including, among other things, study groups, workshops, enrichment lectures, educational excursions and social activities. The center’s interior sports a youthful, colorful vibe, with bright wall murals, informal lounging areas and high-tech labs.
“As far as we are concerned, if a student gets a grade of 100 on the highest level of mathematics, but doesn’t get up to give an elderly person a seat on the bus, we haven’t really accomplished anything."
The KKL-JNF House in Nof HaGalil is just the beginning - additional houses are being planned for underdeveloped localities throughout the country, including in Sderot, Ofakim, and Kiryat Malachi. The centers offer accessible supplementary studies in science, technology and leadership development, with the aim of empowering high school youth to excel, and crucially, narrowing opportunity gaps between Israel’s central and peripheral regions. The support of friends of KKL-JNF around the world are making this project possible.
Noam Goldstein, a studies coordinator at the KKL-JNF House, explained that the goal is for the students to succeed in their studies, and, no less importantly, to empower them to take part in social activism. “As far as we are concerned, if a student gets a grade of 100 on the highest level of mathematics, but doesn’t get up to give an elderly person a seat on the bus, we haven’t really accomplished anything. We want them to learn how to relate to other people and work together, along with learning how to study and succeed.”
Participants’ main task in the entrepreneurship and applications course is to develop an app that will encourage people to visit KKL-JNF forests. Ideas that have come up in initial brainstorming sessions include creating a forest version of Pokemon GO, a Waze-like app for forest routes, and apps offering information about available tour guides and forest accessibility.
Fifteen year-old Daniel Turk said that he heard about the course when KKL-JNF House counselors presented the idea at his school. “As a small child, I took part in an applications development course, and now I’m here for a professional, more mature and high-level course. This is a field that I might want to work in one day, so it’s really good for me to already get some experience.”
The program is being carried out in collaboration with TechLift, an organization that grew out of the IDF 8200 Cyber Unit Alumni Association, which is partner to many programs at KKL-JNF House. The goal of the organization is to develop thoughtful and creative youth, to empower them and to give them a sense of self-confidence and capability.
“The idea is to make technological and entrepreneurial knowledge accessible to youth who live in Israel’s social and geographical periphery,” explained Tal Korem, the course’s operations and guidance coordinator. “This is how we promote equal opportunity for all, along with narrowing gaps.”
"...It’s really good that there’s a place in Nof Hagalil that creates a space for students who want. And what’s most important is that it doesn’t cost anything at all, so anyone who wants to can be a part of this."
“It’s boring to be at home all day long, and I thought it would be interesting to learn how to build apps, so right away I decided to join,” said fourteen year-old Avital Shivatz. “This is my first time at KKL-JNF House, and I hope to learn things that you don’t learn at school.”
Her friend Zelta Pavlok had visited KKL-JNF House in the past in the framework of activities initiated by the Sharet School Students Council. “It’s interesting to learn how to program apps. We’re anyway attached to our cellphones around the clock, so at least we should do something useful with them,” she said.
Like other similar organizations in Israel and abroad, KKL-JNF House has also had to adapt its activities to Coronavirus restrictions as directed by the Ministry of Health. The study groups were split into smaller units, and some of the activities were relocated to other educational spaces in the city. Anyone entering KKL-JNF House is required to disinfect their hands, get their temperature taken, give their ID number, and of course, wear masks. Nevertheless, these precautions did not hamper the learning experience or affect the social atmosphere in any way.
“During corona times, you can’t go out for entertainment, but I didn’t want to sit at home all day long,” said Alicia Kovelchuk. “I was supposed to have been on a youth mission to the US right now, and of course I was very disappointed that it was cancelled, but at least I have an opportunity to do other things that are interesting and useful during my vacation, which will also contribute to my future.”
Liron Roime is not only participating in the application development course, but also in a mathematics summer course at KKL-JNF House. “I know that most of my friends are fast asleep at home right now, but it’s important for me to invest in my studies and to be better prepared for tenth grade. It’s really good that there’s a place in Nof Hagalil that creates a space for students who want to invest in their studies and learn. And what’s most important is that it doesn’t cost anything at all, so anyone who wants to can be a part of this.”