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Afek: Creating a Culture of Communal Responsibility

Ms. Dafna Rodik has been teaching in Afek since its founding in 1990, and became the principal in 1998. Without much prodding or questions, she shared with us about the school’s vision and activities, as well as the significance of visits from the Ofri Center’s training courses and her ideas on how, as educators, we all can inspire one another. Here, we share Rodik's unique vision and an educational model that stresses community and equality among the staff and students. The school engages the students beyond the classroom walls alone; and encourages them to be active members of their school, their family, their hometown and their society at large. 

The Afek School for grades 1-6 defined itself from the beginning as a “green” school. The term “sustainable” was not in use back then. Now, says Ms. Rodik, “We are much ‘greener’ than we were back then.” Originally, the concept of ‘green’ consisted mainly of environmental education. In 1998, the school joined the Green Network, which then also focused mostly on environmental issues.  

Now the school’s understanding of sustainability has evolved. Sustainability, according to Rodik, is an ethical worldview, and Afek tries to incorporate these values into all their activities. Rodik tells that when the school decided to widen their understanding of sustainability and expand their activities, the parents were skeptical. It was a dream, she recalled, “but they let us run with it and see where we could go.” This dream has gained momentum and throughout the years, Afek has cultivated a system that has permeated into the students’ homes and into the community at large.

The school makes a point of being a part of their community. The children visit local sites and community centers, getting to know the history of their home town and the special people who live there. The community feeling is an integral part of the school. One of the original ideas Afek implemented is the morning Ecology class. The whole school focuses on an annual topic that is on the public agenda, and the class is given for all age groups. There are no exams in this class, and teachers compare notes and share ideas for how to teach the class. There is much discussion and excitement around this class among the staff as well as the students. This creates a common language and culture for the whole school as well as for the students’ families.

Another key principle of the school is action. Ms. Rodik stressed that a core element of sustainability is not to sit around, noticing problems and complaining about them, but rather to get up and do something. Throughout the years, the school has built experiential centers, including a petting zoo, ecological pool, compost pile, meteorology center and rain water gathering. While actively learning, the students not only gather knowledge, but they also learn the value of team work, respect, cooperation, volunteering and involvement. Working together blurs the age group lines, and creates a school atmosphere where all are equal. “There is no hierarchy,” says Rodik. “I can also be a part of fruit picking. We all work towards the same goals.”

Rodik expressed the importance of the professional visits from the Ofri Center and many other groups from Israel and all around the world to the school. “When educators and environmental activists visit it gives the students a chance to share their hard work. This contributes to the students’ self-confidence and self-esteem. They develop their public speaking skills. This is so flattering and encouraging for them.” Afek treats visits as a highlight for the students, and they enthusiastically prepare the school for guests. “You always learn something from these visits,” says Rodik. “If you do something with all your heart, because you believe in it, you will automatically learn. Creating these connections worldwide is such a contribution. It keeps you on the map. There is renewal. We exchange new ideas and rekindle the joy of creativity.”

Rodik sees the job of an educator to push boundaries, never to teach the same thing in the same way. And indeed this avant-garde system shows beautiful results. “What is really wonderful is when our alumni return to visit the school. Many of them have chosen to become active in the issues they focused on while here in primary school. These students are engaged and active citizens.”

This belief in community as a means to empowerment is relevant for educators as well. As a final message to Ofri Center alumni, Rodik stressed the importance of keeping open the channel of communication. “Write to each other, tell of your ideas and successes and challenges. Strengthen each other, create lasting ties. When we share with one another, we remind each other of our actions’ importance. Then we are encouraged to act, to make a small change. Then, we all succeed.”

By Amanda Keehn, Ofri Center Staff