Students at the Daat School in Otef Azza, Israel, have faced a radical year with unprecedented challenges. Not only must they deal with the day-to-day stress of living through a global pandemic, but also their close proximity to the Gaza Strip means living and learning in a war-torn environment — such as the most recent conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Yitzhak Shlomi, principal at the Daat School, recently had an English class create a “resilience dome,” where students can escape their harsh realities by producing live events and interactive content using novel software and hardware.
“The resilience dome can build and empower you, and that is helpful when times get difficult,” said Aviv, whose last name was omitted for anonymity, a 14-year old participant. “It changed the way I see myself and helped me learn that I can do things that I didn’t know I could do.”
The resilience dome is part of a larger Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia-funded Israeli initiative known as StudioLabs. StudioLabs is a traveling program, tailored for young teens to identify critical problems within their local communities and work with teachers and facilitators to address them through technology and storytelling.
These projects take place in the local Jewish Federation’s partnership regions of Netivot and Sdot Negev. The idea is to make learning experiential instead of passive and to focus the process on real-life problems. Through StudioLabs, students explore science, technology, art, creative expression, storytelling and other 21st century skills, empowering them to grow into strong leaders.
One of the main goals of the program is to foster strong roots or “place attachment” to communities, so that the youth feel invested in the future of their regions. By creating projects focused on unique challenges to a given area, StudioLabs encourages kids to find pride in their communities and view their neighborhoods with limitless potential.
“We introduce young teens to things happening in their community that they otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to,” explained Boaz Israeli, a StudioLab facilitator. “This provides them with pride, a stronger sense of belonging and resilience, because it changes the way they see opportunities.”
During one StudioLab project in Sdot Negev, participants created an interactive media campaign to promote a solution to pest issues which were wreaking havoc on local sunflower farms.
This project not only created a solution for a real-life problem, but it also exposed students to the possible career paths within agriculture, which they might not have otherwise known. Defying traditional perceptions of farming, the experience revealed that there is an academic side, a food science side and a marketing side to the industry.
StudioLabs is open to all youth, but the real power within its mission is how it transforms and empowers the girls in the region. Women, particularly those who are religious, living in the Sdot Negev and Netivot generally have limited options when it comes to their careers. Combating this reality, StudioLabs provides girls with a supportive environment and women mentors in science.
In the more urban area of Netivot, a group of ninth grade girls spearheaded a StudioLab project to address the issue of food waste reduction through the production of a digital campaign. Praised for its systematic change on a local level, the girls presented their campaign to government officials and at an international conference for corporate social responsibility.
From strengthening identity to mobilizing change, the type of StudioLab project is dependent on the region and the people participating. Given all of these variables, one thing is certain: Wherever they take place, they function as an asset to the community and transform it into an incubator for innovative ideas and tangible solutions.
“The fact that the Jewish Federation helps enable these projects and that so far they have all taken place in our partnership regions should be a huge source of pride for Jewish Federation supporters,” said Tali Lidar, director of Israel and global operations at the Jewish Federation’s Israel office. “Through StudioLabs, supporters are helping to shape young minds and the way they navigate their world.”