METULLA, Israel – The work table is too crowded, and there’s no extra room for storage.
Time to call in some consultants – in this case, Grade 5 and 6 students at HaNadiv School, working in a classroom that’s also a “tinkering space” and design lab.
The students come up with questions or problems, find innovative solutions and build prototypes that could one day become marketable products.
For the crowded table, the students came up with different designs to organize and store school supplies. One group of girls designed and built a fabric case that stores two dozen pens and pencils in a compact roll.
Another group created a box to hold a range of school supplies, with straps that hook over the back of a chair.
Three teachers are present, but the kids are leading this program at HaNadiv, which is partnered with the Ottawa Jewish Community School through Partnership 2Gether (P2G).
The program is called Maker Space, which is known around the world but is quite new to Israel. Although the students have access to a range of tools, from sewing machines to 3D printers, this isn’t an industrial arts class.
Maker Space is all about helping young people develop critical thinking skills that will help them succeed in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM).
It also fosters teamwork, creativity and mentoring skills. Some of the Grade 5 students, for example, have developed innovative games that will be used to teach math to Grade 2 students.
Jewish Federation of Ottawa President and CEO Andrea Freedman, Linda Kerzner and I visited HaNadiv earlier this month during our P2G meetings in the Upper Galilee. We also visited our newest partner, Einat HaGalil School, which is twinned with Temple Israel Religious School.
P2G pairs Jewish communities in the Diaspora with cities or regions in Israel. Ottawa is part of the Coast to Coast Partnership, with Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Atlantic Canada.
We’re partnered with Kiryat Shmona, Metulla, Mevo’ot HaHermon, Galil Elyon and Yesod HaMa’ala, northern communities near the borders with Lebanon and Syria.
We focus on youth and education, Gesher Hai (people-to-people partnerships that include school twinning programs and student exchanges) and capacity building – social programming and regional development.
The Upper Galilee is geographically, economically and politically isolated. Despite its spectacular beauty and affordable cost of living, it’s tough to attract new families to the region. And when the best and the brightest leave the region for higher education, they rarely return.
That’s why so many of the programs we support, such as the robotics program at Emek HaHula Regional High School, emphasize skills that will allow young people to create their own opportunities as entrepreneurs and inventors.
We’ve just approved funding for a STEAM pilot project that we hope will eventually reach all the elementary schools in the region. Like the Maker Space program at HaNadiv, the Galilium Initiative (in partnership with Tel-Hai College) introduces problem solving, design and entrepreneurship to younger students.
It emphasizes biomimicry, which seeks sustainable solutions to human problems by studying the patterns of nature. For example, students were inspired by the shell of an armadillo to design protective clothing for motorcyclists.
I could write a year’s worth of columns about P2G, but here are a few more highlights.
Since our partnership funded half the salary of a psychology intern at the Youth Mental Health Clinic in Kiryat Shmona, the waiting list for regular treatment has dropped from eight months to two months. The most urgent cases can be seen immediately.
At Hafuch al-Hafuch in Kiryat Shmona, a drop-in counselling and information centre, we’ve funded a new program specifically for adolescent girls. It includes private counselling, workshops on such issues as sexuality and prevention of risky behavior, and a young ambassadors program in co-operation with the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel.
Private donations from Ottawa provided 20 scholarships to the Clore Music and Dance Center at Kfar Blum, and allowed 17 Grade 9 students from Yesod HaMa’ala to go on a life-changing Holocaust education trip to Poland in July.
Private donations from Ottawa and Vancouver bought equipment and expanded programs at Beit Kadima in Kiryat Shmona, which provides hot meals, tutoring and activities for kids at risk.
We’re not talking big bucks here. We’re dealing with modest Canadian seed money and strategic investments, leveraged with money from the Israeli government when possible.
And we’re working with tireless Israelis who demonstrate extraordinary commitment to their people, their country and their future.
That’s what I call a great partnership.