Thursday, April 07, 2016

Visit to Achva Academic College, March 29, in Beer Tuvia, across the street from Kiryat Malachi

When I was at Brandeis University in the 1960s and in  Israel in the early 1970s the Israeli universities that I had heard of were Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Technion, and Bar Ilan.  The University of Haifa was also started in 1963.  Now there are a total of nine Israeli universities and  over 40 "academic colleges" and more than 20 colleges mainly focusing on teacher training.

Achva started in 1971 as a teacher training program and while still mainly a teacher program for getting a BA, it also has expanded into other areas including Psychology, Life Sciences, Management, graduate studies, etc.    Achva is the Hebrew word for brotherhood or friendship.

I met its president, Professor Alean Al-Krenawi, two years ago when he visited Seattle and I was ask to host a gathering for him.  I was most impressed and hosted another one last summer with 12 people from my synagogue in Seattle, Beth Shalom, and the nearby Reform synagogue Beth Am. Al-Krenawi is the first non-Jew to be appointed to such a position in Israel and is also a Bedouin.

After his visit to my home last summer, he invited me for an official tour of the Achva campus next time I would be in Israel, so I took him up on it on.   Zvi, head of development, met me in the parking lot.
The official photo of the two of us
After greetings, I saw a short movie about the college, which is also on the website of the college.  Here is a picture of the campus from the movie.  The movie is definitely worth watching as it quickly summarizes what I could write.   BTW, since 2007 it was officially declared a "green" college.

There are approximately 3500 full time students and a total of over 5500, almost all from the outlying areas of Israel (periphery.)  77% of the students are Jewish and 23% Arab, mostly Bedouin.   Some local people had voiced concerns to me about the number of Arabs as the school, but the school feels it is important to have a mi,x and that many other Israeli schools have higher numbers of Arab students with the University of Haifa with 30% Arab students, Sfat with 60%, and Kinneret with 45%.  I just visited with a friend of mine a few minutes ago and her daughter got her BA at Achva in Special Education.  She really enjoyed her experience at the school.  My friend said that from what she knows the standards are higher at Achva and therefore it is harder to get into Achva's education program than in Ashkelon college and another college in the area.

 While there is an emphasis on education, there is also a balance placed on research.  Achva has its own research publication, published in Hebrew with part in English too.
Achva also has a special program for Ultra-Orthodox Jewish teachers to get BAs.    The Haredi  (Ultra-Orthodox) campus is a in separate area in portables, to meet the special needs of this group of people. 
Half of the portables
 Men mainly study teaching methodology and discipline (how to teach Jewish studies) on Sundays and Wednesdays from 4:30 to 10 p.m.  Women study on Wednesdays from morning to 4 p.m.  Half of the women are focusing on Special Ed and the other half on elementary school and Jewish Studies methodology.  The classes differ, depending on what some already had learned at a basic teacher training institute.  

Achva hopes to open a special  BA program in Psychology for Haredi women and are working with the Ministry of Education to find a way to make this become a reality. There is a high demand in the Haredi community for higher education.

Achva has a special community (social) project to link Kiryat Gat and Rahat through education which is funded by the Council on Community Education.  The college received a prize from the Council on Higher Education in Israel for community engagement.  I think I was told that it was the only college that does so or puts a high focus on it.  It has also sent both Israeli Jews and Arabs as a group to Germany.   The school also has had conferences and seminars on Peace Education and is working with other academic institutions outside of Israel to continue this endeavor, working with the Israeli Office of Regional Collaboration.  The office is headed by Ayoob Kara, a Druze-Israeli and Likud member of the Knesset and Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation..  The college wants to have a balance in execellence in education and research and recruiting people that might be considered non-excellent but with huge potential from the outlying areas of Israel.    

It also have a relatively new "second chance"  program for Israelis 30 and older to go back to school and get a BA.   It is a good program for "late bloomers," those with potential but didn't do well on their national standardized Bagruyot tests in high school in Israel and/or others who didn't fit well in the Army.  It can really help these students increase their income and be role models for their children, other family members, and neighbors.  

President Rivlin is a "friend" of Achva college and gave a speech at the opening of this Academic year.  

Al-Krenawi would like very much to build dorms so students would not have to travel so far daily and more students could come throughout Israel.  The college is trying to find a place for such dorms.
He is also looking for ways to raise funds for scholarships for students.  Since most are from the outlying regions of Israel, it is hard for them to have the funds to continue.  Often he has to scramble to help individual students so they don't have to drop out.

Two students spent time visiting with me and telling me their stories.

Liat is 24 and a second year student in Behavioral Sciences.  When she began to speak, I saw she was an amazingly cheerful and positive young woman. She grew up in Arad but rents a place nearby on a moshav with a friend.  She hopes to get an M. A. in School Counseling.  She was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at 13 and then had the first of three operations on her spine, which helped her grow 2 inches.  In 12th grade she was unable to walk and remained at home.  She spent three years in a wheel chair. She was physically unable to go into the army and was relieved of any need to do something for the army but did National Service for two years.  Now she walks, often with a cane, and has a back brace and walks slowly.

Now all colleges have to have special access for students with special needs, but Achva was an early proponent.
Handicapped accessible bathroom sign
Multi-cultural women's bathroom sign
When Liat started to look for colleges, she first went to Ben Gurion University, but because she was one point short on her entrance exams, the school was inflexible and would not consider her.  
She had heard that Achva was especially helpful for students with special needs so she came to talk to a counselor.  The counselor saw her one point deficit but suggested that she talk to the head of the education area of her interest.  The professor talked with her and was amazed by her language and how she presented herself, so she personally walked Liat back to the counselor and told her to do what was necessary to enroll her.  Liat has blossomed at Achva.

Bayan, age 22, is a Bedouin from Rahad and is in her 4th and final year of studies for her BA in Education. She always wanted to be an English teacher.  Bayan's father is a Vice Principal in an elementary school and has 7 daughters.  When Bayan, who is pregnant, told her father she is having a girl, he said "good."  What an amazing role model!    Banyan is doing a paid internship in Rahat, teaching 3--5th graders English, part time 25 hours a week, in addition to her academic studies.   Bayan also knew a friend of mine who teaches in Kiryat Malachi who had a reading program with her school in Rahat and one in Kiryat Malachi where students read the same story in English.  

She would love that a US class of  3rd--5th grade students have a writing exchange with her students.  She also has no English reading books for her students, so I will see if I can find some again like I used to when I helped Norman Chapman send books to schools in Hof Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi, especially Dr. Seuss.  Hopefully, Alean can bring them back to Israel when he is again in the US.

I then got a tour of the newly remodeled library and it was impressive.
Friendly librarian who greets all students--nice flowers on counter
Stacks, with books, and academic journals
All students in Israel have to pass an English exam and most have to take a English class to raise their reading level as a number of assigned texts are in English.  Since I created a library of 800 books for the ESL students when I taught at Gonzaga University, I was interested in seeing the books they had for English learners.
Oxford readers by level for ESL learners
Then from the special readers, I saw  a huge jump to adult books, mostly classics.  I'll see if I can help to get some "hi-lo books" (hi interest lower reading ability) to add to this library.
I was impressed by the library study areas where students can work together,

 Most were in classes when I visited but in the afternoons, the area below is packed.

Amazing to see a no-phone sign in Israel!! (in study areas)

 The computer stations, with 45 computers in the library for student use.

 and comfortable chairs to just sit and read--or chat!
Some current educational publications available:

New children's books in Hebrew for elementary ed students to see and read:
They also have some rare books in the library including a 1832 Hebrew grammar book published by Harvard University.

After a very tasty lunch in the student cafeteria where all the workers warmly welcomed the president, I ended my visit.  It was very impressive.  If any of you want to hear more, please let me know.


mona alk said...

Hi Dina

Great post, lots of details needed to be known and lovely pictures
I loved the stories about the two lovely student and their chalenges and their unseen power that they have.

Monawar Alkrenawi( Alean`s wife)

AmyHP said...

Achva Academic College is amazing and I love that you really brought out all of its greatness in your blog post! Please give my best to Alean Al-Krenawi!


Nava Gazitt said...

What an informative and enlightening report! I am glad you are able to spread the good word about Achva College.