"Lev-Ran" pupils promote values-Key to the Heart Program.

When I taught in high schools a long time ago, I had a hard-and-fast rule: I didn’t begin the lesson before the classroom was clean. I’d stand by the door, stopwatch in hand, and time the pupils as they picked up orange peels and apple cores and scrunched up papers. The floor visible again, they returned to their desks and I’d start teaching. After the bell rang for break we’d continue working until they had given back the two minutes of clean-up time.

One day I had an idea – why not implement this system in the whole school? It would take one day, two at most, I figured, if all the teachers cooperated, for debris in the school to become history. I called a meeting. The teachers gathered round a table and the coordinator stepped into the room. Smoking. She crossed the staffroom, took a last, lung-crushing puff of her cigarette, and chucked the butt out of the window into the playground area below. She blew out a long blast of smoke as she sat down. “Pamela wants to discuss cleanliness,” she proclaimed.

My idea was nixed. I didn’t raise my other suggestions: uniforms, quiet in the corridors, standing up when teachers entered the room.

But this is a love story with a happy end. It seems that change is coming to Israeli schools at last. School uniforms are not unusual now (though they might not pass as such in Britain or the Commonwealth), and in many classrooms pupils stand up when teachers enter the room. And in select schools around the country, cleanliness is now high on the agenda.

One of the educationalists spearheading change in the system is Louise Baram, 45, (nee Schneider-Kuper) from Raanana. Born in South Africa, Baram immigrated to Israel with her family when she was thirteen and finished her education in Israel. She graduated cum laude with an MA from Tel Aviv University in Curriculum Planning and Evaluation. Married with two kids, and an English teacher by profession, the dynamic Baram took over the post of school principal of Lev-Ran in Tzoran seven years ago. “I was determined to put the school on the map,” she says, “with an educational revolution!”

Walking into the school, visitors are struck by the pleasantness of the place: artwork by pupils adorns the walls, the premises are spotless and the low slung buildings around a courtyard lend a relaxed atmosphere to the school. As the blonde, slim and trim Baram whizzes through her school like a dynamo, pupils come up to her for advice or to share a problem, or simply for a hug. She dispenses solutions, compliments and cuddles as she hurries to her office (what a beautiful picture you drew, please organize more copies of this poem, without this teacher, and this one, and this – nothing you see here would be the same!).

Baram’s efforts have paid off: last year Lev-Ran was awarded the District Educational Prize. Like some other Israeli schools, Baram has integrated two main programs into the curriculum: New Horizon and Key to the Heart (a Ministry of Education program). The main idea of New Horizon is dedicating more time to your pupils on a one to one basis and in small tutoring groups, leading to a close relationship between teachers and pupils. Based on this caring relationship pupils progress significantly in the core subjects. In turn, the parents express their gratitude, and all this has a great impact on the school environment.

 Key to the Heart’s core values include respect, diversity, teamwork and social involvement and Baram has ensured that all of the 481 pupils in the school participate in specific duties. Whether they are responsible for the key to the classroom or collecting bottles for recycling, bringing homework to sick pupils or monitoring attendance, the aim is that each pupil feels empowered and involved, with a sense of caring for the school.

Ten active committees include teams that work on the school newspaper, library, sports activities and extra math tutoring, while pupils also devote their time and energy towards greening the school, giving to the needy, caring for animals and celebrating birthdays. Certificates of merit are awarded at special ceremonies to pupils who set a good example in behavior, initiative and caring for the school and for others. “We nurture our pupils as much as possible,” explains Baram, “and in addition to our dedicated teachers we are also lucky to have some retired senior citizens who help pupils in small groups.” These “Friends of Education” give of their time and energy for no remuneration other than the gratitude of the pupils.

“Every child can do it,” is Baram’s motto, but it doesn’t stop there. “Every child can do it, and every child can do even more,” she insists, given the necessary environment, tools and love. The dedicated and excellent staff, together with a strong and active parent body have “turned our school into a temple of culture,” claims Baram. Our school inspector, Ariella Segal, dubs Lev-Ran “a five-star school”, says the proud principal, and it is not hard to see why.

The pupils in Lev-Ram wear the customary uniform – a school T-shirt in various colors, and jeans. They spring up to silent attention when a teacher enters their class, and the classrooms are clean and tidy. And on commemoration days they even walk down the corridors to the ceremonies in silence! The best thing of all is that Lev-Ran is not unique; Baram is only one of the educators in Israel trying to spread this ‘old-new’ approach to learning. Can school ties and blazers and houses be far behind? 

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Pamela Peled

Dr. Pamela Peled was born in South Africa and came to live in Israel in 1975, at the age of 17. She studied English Literature and Teaching at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and has a doctorate...

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