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A sunrise hike overlooking the Red Sea - just another day at one of Dror Israel’s high schools

Snorkeling in January? While it may not be your average high school’s winter field trip, here at Dror Israel’s Social High School in Tel Aviv, it’s a new tradition.

Dror Israel’s Social High School in Tel Aviv returned last week from a school-wide three-day hiking trip near the southern Israeli city of Eilat on the Red Sea. Students and educators from 9th-12th grades spent their first days back from winter break hiking in the Eilat Mountains, cooking their own food and sleeping outside in tents.

Definitely not an average school day!

The unique school provides students and educators a chance to experience a different sort of education and is one of seven Dror Israel high schools located across the country that uses innovative dialogue and a project-based learning approach. Students, many coming from at-risk backgrounds and/or searching for an alternative educational experience, choose between 21st century vocational tracks like agro-ecology, audio production, and new media and photography.

While the city of Eilat is known as a resort town, Dror Israel’s high school integrated their own educational approach to an often-commercialized experience. The entire hiking trip was planned and guided by a team of students and educators. Prior to setting out on the trip all together, each class chose two students and one educator to lead a pre-trip training program. A month prior to the school-wide trip, this group set out to Eilat to get to know the hiking trails, organize the food menu and plan activities.

Each class had time to bond and overcome challenges together.

In-line with the Tel Aviv’s high school’s social pedagogical approach, the hiking trip included a community-oriented project. In addition to enjoying the sun, desert and (mostly) warm waters, the educators and students wanted the opportunity to connect with the community and give back to a region in Israel that is often taken for granted. While in Eilat on the pre-trip training program, educators and students met with the authorities responsible for the upkeep and protection of Eilat’s coral reef. The authorities were so impressed with the Social High School’s drive to give back on their school-wide trip, that they invited the entire school to return to the coral reef and engage in a beach clean-up and snorkeling session that is normally available only for adults and army units. The students and educators spent the last day of their trip cleaning up the beaches and enjoying the colorful fish and coral reef.

Camping and hiking trips are an integral part of the school’s holistic educational approach. As students come from the metropolitan center of Tel Aviv and many from challenging backgrounds, the culture of camping and the life skills it develops are not necessarily a part of their lives. Every element of the camping trips allows the students an opportunity to learn a new skill and gain a new sense of independence: sleeping away from home, cooking for themselves, and even dividing up the food into hiking packs according to each student’s ability are pinpointed by the educators as an opportunity for growth.

Eran Winter, an educator at Dror Israel’s Social High School in Tel Aviv, explains that the challenges students face together on the camping trip foster positive group dynamics and feelings of collective responsibility. He describes how the change in environment allows the students who may have the most difficulty in the classroom be the most capable and helpful on the hiking trail.

The hike fostered leadership skills and a sense of accomplishment for the students.

As the students and educators return to their daily school lives in Tel Aviv, we can be sure that they are starting the second half of their school year with a fresh new sense of accomplishment and togetherness.

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