Beginning in 2000-2001, the Virginia Beach City Public Schools Partnership Advisory Link, an advisory body comprised of school and community representatives, began annually recognizing Model Partnerships. Through a nomination and panel review process, each school year’s Model Partnerships are selected as examples of best practices of meaningful community involvement in the Virginia Beach school district.
Model partnerships are selected based on criteria including engagement in innovative educational activities, a positive impact on student learning and achievement, mutual benefit to the school and organization and value added to the educational initiatives in the Virginia Beach City Public Schools and to the community organization.
On Thursday, April 30, at an annual community celebration attended by all Virginia Beach school principals and school partnership coordinators, along with many volunteers and community partners, the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater was honored as one of 13 model partnerships, out of 82 nominees, for their work with the Global Studies and World Languages Academy at Tallwood High School. The partnership between the CRC and Tallwood High School began in 2012 as the Global Studies and World Languages Academy (GSWLA) at Tallwood needed a local partner to support student efforts in a student exchange program through the American-Israeli Friendship League (AIFL). This annual exchange program provides opportunities for Israeli students to learn about American culture and American students to learn about Israeli culture as they travel to each other’s countries and participate in community activities.
In preparation for an upcoming delegation from and to Israel, Greg Falls, a GSWLA teacher and former Israel exchange chaperone, contacted UJFT and was put in touch with Robin Mancoll, CRC director. Falls and Mancoll discussed the possibilities and agreed that the partnership would first include CRC support of the upcoming American-Israeli Culture Café and would provide guest speakers to help prepare GSWLA students for their travel to Israel.
The GSWLA regularly holds culture cafes, a popular after school event for students and teachers to learn about other cultures through activities, food and presentations. Culture cafés generally coincide with the visiting student delegations. (Israel is one of six GSWLA exchange programs, along with Northern Ireland, China, Germany, Spain and the Philippines.) One of the highlights of the annual American-Israeli culture cafés is a sing-a-long with Ohef Sholom Temple’s Cantor Wally Schachet-Briskin who plays his guitar and teaches traditional Israeli songs. With more than 100 students, the American-Israeli culture café is the best attended of all the GSWLA cafés each year.
The first events were such a success that the partnership quickly expanded to include regular guest speakers for the GSWLA (not just for those traveling), invitations to community events organized by the CRC, student presentations to members of the Jewish community, volunteer opportunities in both the Jewish community and at Tallwood, as well as mutual support of each other’s goals to raise awareness of the cultural diversity within this community, country and world.
As the partnership between the GSWLA and the CRC grew, so did the popularity of the CRC’s visiting guest speakers at Tallwood. These after school engagements provided not just the GSWLA students, but all Tallwood students, an opportunity to hear internationally recognized speakers in their fields and brought anywhere from 20 to 120 students, staying after school to learn from these visiting experts as they talked about the challenges and successes of Israel today. Amos Guiora, Neil Lazarus, Ishmael Khaldi, David Makovsky, Mark Dubowitz, former MK Einat Wilf, and others have participated in these successful experiences at Tallwood. Through these and other CRC speakers, the students have the opportunity to expand their awareness and knowledge of current events beyond what is available through the mainstream media. They are exposed to first-hand accounts of Israel’s history, as well as that of the Jewish people and the ever-changing geopolitics of the Middle East. When the Tallwood students come to events on the Sandler Family Campus, or speak about Israel in the community, it makes a statement— if these young, non-Jewish students care so much about Israel and are willing to attend and speak up, what more should and could, the Jewish community do?
After the 2012 AIFL exchange program, GSWLA students created an Israeli Culture and Hebrew Club at Tallwood High School. The club meets regularly to discuss current events relating to Israeli culture, learn Hebrew and gain an appreciation for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Educators from the community and CRC members are often on site for these meetings to provide expertise and guidance.
The AIFL student exchange program with Israel for 10 Israeli and 10 GSWLA students is quite expensive. In addition to the 10 days in each community, participants tour Washington, D.C., New York City, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and additional cities in Israel such as Haifa, Sderot and Modi’in. To raise funds for this endeavor, the GSWLA Boosters organization holds an annual Golf Tournament. For the past three years, CRC has helped the Boosters secure “hole sponsors” and various other contributions. Other than donations from community members secured by Andrew Nusbaum, financial support from United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and through generous grants funded through the Tidewater Jewish Foundation, this golf event is the single largest fundraiser the Boosters takes on each year.
As the partnership has matured, the CRC and GSWLA have expanded their activities. Since 2013, Mancoll and other CRC members have served as interviewers for the GSWLA mock interviews that all 365 Academy students participate in each year. The partnership with the CRC has also generated community relationships which have provided mentors and presentation judges for the culminating senior project that all GSWLA graduates must successfully complete. Additionally, the CRC fosters relationships between the GSWLA and other local organizations that host visiting delegations for fieldtrips and learning opportunities.
In addition to volunteerism, GSWLA students work with CRC members to achieve common goals, including support for those within Tidewater, informing the public of the joys of diversity and the tragedy of discrimination, and to promote understanding of the role U.S. citizens play in the political, social and economic activities around the globe. GSWLA students that have served as delegates to Israel participate in numerous CRC events upon their return, including attending the Meet the Candidate event, reminding the candidates that the youth (Jewish and non-Jewish) believe in a strong U.S.-Israel relationship; presentations focusing on their travel experiences to a variety of community groups; and participating in the CRC’s Community Impact Partnership program with the goal of building relationships throughout the community to advocate for Israel and create positive change in the community.
Through the promotion of each other’s goals, both organizations have expanded their network of supporters and advocates. The GSWLA has been able to continue participation in the AIFL student exchange program due to generous donations from individuals and organizations they might otherwise not have encountered and the CRC has expanded its audience and advocates to youth and adults beyond the Jewish community.
About the value of this partnership, Andrew Nusbaum says that, “it’s so often that the teachers and administration from Tallwood’s Global Studies and World Languages Academy thanks us, but really, we should be thanking them for the energy that they’re giving us to learn more and do more.”
This partnership is truly the model of a mutually beneficial community relationship and the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and the Global Studies and World Languages Academy at Tallwood High School are so much better for it. To learn more about the Global Studies and World Languages Academy’s Israel Exchange Program, or to make a contribution to send eight students and a teacher to Israel this fall, contact Robin Mancoll CRC director, at RMancoll@ujft.org or Rebecca Gurley, the Academy coordinator at 757‑648-5725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Jessica Windish, teacher and Partnership Coordinator, Tallwood High School and Robin Mancoll, CRC director