Harish: A Good Place to Grow Up In

How an inspiring meeting between two dedicated educators and Harish’s Department of Education came to create a flourishing Junior High. Two 7th grade classes and one 8th grade class will open this coming September.

It was a dream destined to come true. Tali Holan (33), a graduate of the democratic education program in the social-educational initiative incubator, and Lior Levitan (36), currently completing his master’s degree in democratic education at Tel Aviv University, grew up in the Hashomer Hatzair youth organization and have been engaged in formal and informal education for many years now. Over the past few years, they jointly taught a junior high class in Gvanim Junior High in the Menashe Regional Council, and together coordinated a promotional teaching program called “Man and Society” – an innovative program for teaching humanities. “It was an amazing, significant and formative incubator,” Tali explains, “and we decided that we want to create something of our own – a school where we can let loose with the ideas we came up with, implement our worldview and spirit, and there was no doubt in our mind that we would be doing it as part of the public education system.”

“Adolescents deserve to grow up in a sane world, alongside adults who understand them.” -Tali Holan and Lior Levitan

An Invitation to Realize an Educational Dream

When Tali and Lior realized that it was time to make their educational dream come true, they published a public invite around the Menashe Regional Council and the Harish Department of Education – which at the time still had to send junior high and high school students to schools in nearby cities – located these students and brought them to Harish. “The Department of Education in Harish is made up of extraordinary individuals,” says Tali, “and the head of this fantastic group is Shelly Keren – a brilliant woman and a true pioneer. My first meeting with officials from the department was very exciting, and we set off, with tremendous backing by the department, to found the first public junior high and high school in Harish.” This coming September is the culmination of our journey: two 7th grade classes and one 8th grade class will be opened and the “Future Challenges School” will slowly grow to full capacity – a six-year school – from 7th grade to 12th grade.

The Message: A Humane Encounter

“From the moment I fell in love with teaching, I realized that I want to start a school,” says Levitan, “and I believe this is the perfect response to all those teachers who hurt my students along the way. When we were in the garin, we felt like we were invisible, just being bombarded with homework and punished. Adolescents deserve to grow up in a sane world, alongside adults who understand them.”

Tali and Lior will bring this educational philosophy, which they formulated over many years of working with teenagers and throughout their academic and practical training, to the new school, guided by the Democratic Institute. This will all take place in full cooperation with an advanced teaching team working in pairs, based on the model they implemented at Gvanim in recent years. “Over the years, we’ve heard and seen hundreds of ideas in the schools we worked in, and we are now implementing the best ones we’ve encountered,” Lior explains. “We handpicked a team of eight. They all have experience with formal and informal education. Every teacher is a pedagogue, methodologist, and pioneer: all of the students are part of building the school and all of the teachers help reinvent the teaching profession,” Tali clarifies.

But the true message this school aims to foster, so it appears, is not methodological at all. Tali and Lior wish to bring to the school something that is often forgotten.

“Innovative pedagogical discourse tends to emphasize methodology,” Lior suggests, “and while it is definitely important, we believe that utter important must be given to providing an educational response to the things that teenagers are preoccupied with. The core of our activity is the encounter between students and teachers, creating a community of belonging and meaning.”

“These kids are desperate for a good place to grow up in. One where they will be seen,” says Tali, and Lior continues, “‘what am I good at?,’ ‘what do I want to be?,’ ‘what is my role in this world?’ – these are questions that both kids and adults have to deal with. The very connection between teacher and student and the trust between them is exactly the arena where these questions can be answered,” he summarizes.

A Dream Within a Dream

We joined up with the educational leadership in Harish in the summer of 2017. We are excited to be part of the journey in this developing town, together with city officials who have made it their mission to find solutions to the great challenges faced by the community, which will soon become a city. We met Tali and Lior at the beginning of the year when they contacted us and told us about their breakthrough initiative to establish a junior high in Harish. After putting out some feelers and making contact we found that this would be a match made in heaven: Shelly, head of the Department of Education in Harish, and Yitzhak Keshet, the mayor, identified the immense potential that Tali and Lior have and gave them their blessing to start a junior high. Establishing this unique junior high is part of the bigger picture of what we are trying to accomplish in Harish, tying the development of advanced pedagogic processes in schools and kindergartens with the ever-growing community.