A School Counselor’s Experience in Israel and the State of Palestine in 2022
By David Barkovich Ed.D., NBCT
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been selected for an international professional development experience that took me far beyond Western PA, far beyond my American-centered comfort zone, and far, far beyond my greatest expectations. It was a tremendous honor and quite a responsibility to represent the American educational system as well the school counseling profession on an international level, and I’d like to share some reflections regarding my experience in an effort to assist you in your work with your students as they “Dream-Plan-Do” (the motto of one of the Israeli schools we visited).
In March of 2022 I traveled to Israel and the State of Palestine with an amazing group of fellow American educators through an organization called Classrooms Without Borders. While our group did tour a number of historical and biblical sites, the focus of the journey was our visits to a number of schools throughout the region. While COVID did unexpectedly limit some of our school visits, here are some of my more significant take-aways that I’d like to share:
School counselors seem to be more scarce in Israel and Palestine than in the US, but this could be because nearly everyone pursues the same path after high school. While academic development seems to be very important to school leaders, only one of the schools we visited had a school counselor (who is part-time and was not present the day of our visit). One explanation for this could be that career counseling in Israel is very different as national military or governmental service is mandatory for all Israeli citizens over the age of 18 (although exemptions may be made on religious, physical, or psychological grounds); as a result, young people tend to plan their paths somewhat later in their lives (age 20 or 21) than in the US (usually 17-18).
Just as in the US, educational funding can be very different depending on the economics of the surrounding community. Our group visited a variety of schools and the vast difference in funding was evident as the wealthier communities clearly had more impressive facilities and curriculum, although all of the educators we encountered possessed high levels of passion and dedication. It does seem that, as in the US, the relative wealth of the surrounding community can have a significant effect upon the educational opportunities found at the schools in those area. Textbooks may be scarce in one region while a school in other region might have ready access to iPads and other technologies.
Inspiring leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. have helped to change not only the United States, but have had a positive effect upon other parts of the world as well. When we visited the Druze High School for Science and Leadership at Yarka (the highest achieving school in the country last year per national exam scores), we were told that their school was inspired by the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, and they actively encourage students to study his work and speeches. The students we interacted with explained that they are proud of the democratic traditions of their community and of the “striving for equality” mentality that permeates their school; the students work to become strong, confident leaders in the world.
Education in this part of the world is an incredibly important method of achieving upward mobility. There are remarkable educational and social systems in these areas, but poverty can still be challenge. It was stressed to us that access to a free education (even at the college level) is available to all residents and that it can be crucial to helping to people rise to the middle-class. While a family might live in tents and tend sheep, students can choose to access education all the way through the college level if they wish.
While I felt very safe during our journeys, this is a turbulent part of the world and we did have to take safety precautions. At the first school we visited, the principal apologized because the room smelled faintly of smoke due to a fire-bombing that had occurred to that building just two months earlier when someone violently disagreed with the school’s mission to educate both Israeli and Palestinian children. In the picture accompany this article, I am standing outside of a school that is less than two miles from the Lebanon-Israel border. While visiting this area, we were asked to take note of where the nearest bomb shelter might be (each building in this area is required to have one) in case a siren might alert us of the need to take shelter. NOTE: I didn’t realize it at the time this picture was taken, but you can clearly see that I’m holding my PSCA folder that I utilize throughout the trip.
Part of our trip was a history-related professional development experience that focused on the tremendous horrors that human beings are capable of perpetrating upon one another. It is impossible to separate the history of this region from the Holocaust. During our visit to Yad Vashem (Israel’s national Holocaust museum), we took part in an educational seminar in which we learned about the pedagogic and didactic tools that could be utilized by teachers. Please visit www.yadvashem.org if you wish to learn more.
This was an unbelievably inspirational and uplifting experience; however, during times of reflection, I do often find my thoughts wandering to the seemingly insurmountable barriers to peace. Despite this, I strongly urge you to investigate how you also could travel and learn with Classrooms Without Borders. Please reach out to me with questions/comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Barkovich has over 20 years of experience with removing barriers to a student's education as a school counselor at North Hills High School in Pittsburgh, PA. Previous to this, David was employed as an Admission and Financial Aid Counselor at the University of Pittsburgh. David has earned his Doctorate in Educational Leadership, Master's Degree in Psychology in Education, Bachelor's Degree in Communication Rhetoric, K-6 and 7-12 school counseling certificate, principal's certification, certification as a supervisor of curriculum and instruction, and has been a National Board Certified Teacher (School Counseling) since 2010. David is a member of the ASCA, PSCA, Allegheny County School Counseling Association (past-president), NACAC, and PACAC. David resides in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife and daughter.