On Friday, December 3, 2010 Meretz USA hosted an event in Los Angeles for The Hagar School, a bilingual and multicultural school for Jewish and Arab children in Beer Sheva. Those in attendance had the pleasure of hearing about a unique school in the heart of the Negev desert that embraces the shared goals of providing the highest quality education while creating an egalitarian community. The Hagar School, a part of the Hand in Hand education network, fully adopts and attains its bilingual and multicultural goals by having two teachers, one Jewish and one Arab, co-teach in every classroom. Hagar’s pedagogical model employs the acquisition of two languages not just as an end goal but also the means for enhancing cognitive development and integrating multiculturalism into all aspects of education.
Hagar is still in the early stages of its long-term development plan to be a K – 12 school. This year Hagar added both 2nd and 3rd grades to their preschool, kindergarten, and 1st grade classes. The goal is to continue to add a new grade each school year, making this year’s 3rd grade cohort ultimately becoming the first high school graduating class. The addition of two grades this school year was driven by local community’s demand for the school to grow faster.
The municipality and the ministry of education, parent tuition fees, and donations fund Hagar. The latter two sources of funding are critical for the operation of the school. Because Hagar has two teachers per 28 students, instead of just one, they have twice the staffing budget of other schools but still only receive government funding for the first teacher and have to raise the money for the second teacher’s salary. As the school continues to grow this budgetary challenge will remain.
Here in the US we learned the hard way that separate is not, and can never be, truly equal. We learned this famous lesson in the arena of our own education system. For a long time the Israeli education system has functioned on separate educational tracks for Jews and Arabs. Hagar is just one school and many in Israel do not want to do away with separate educational tracks, but Hagar’s approach is a powerful reminder to all that full equality may only be possible through integration, and not segregation. Notwithstanding the significant differences between the US and Israel, those of us who strive for an Israel that embraces equality for all of her inhabitants should keep the example of The Hagar School in our minds as a possible model of equality for a country we love.