Ten students from the Peddie School will spend their spring break in Jerusalem, thanks to the persistence of visual arts teacher Eric Drotch.
Drotch, who teaches drawing, painting, printmaking, and sculpture at the nonsectarian prep school in Hightstown, has been working since 2007 to forge a link between his campus and the Israel Arts and Science Academy, a boarding school for gifted students. Drotch sees the connection as part of the broad Asian studies program that already links Peddie students with counterparts in China and India.
The goal of the program is to give the American students “the opportunity to work shoulder-to-shoulder with [Israeli] kids in the classroom and on field trips,” Drotch told NJ Jewish News in a Dec. 29 telephone interview.
The March 8-18 program “will hopefully become the first leg of a reciprocal trip the Israeli kids will take next year,” said Drotch. “Then hopefully, it will become a biennial experience. One year we will send a group of kids to Israel. The next year they will send a group of kids to Peddie.”
Drotch estimated that 10 percent of Peddie’s 520 students are Jewish, but only two of the 10 selected for the trip happen to be Jews. Twenty students applied for the trip, and the half who were chosen — three boys and seven girls — “were picked on their achievements in either the arts or the sciences,” said the educator, who is Jewish. “Each student has a strong record.”
Accompanying Drotch and the students will be Shani Peretz, an Israeli-born science instructor at Peddie. The two will be the students’ full-time chaperones.
When he first met with applicants and their parents last September, Drotch said, “there was some concern expressed about safety, but Shani and I have both spent a lot of time there, and the school is secure. It is a little outside the main area of Jerusalem. We will be living in dormitories and having most meals there.”
For two days a week, the art and science groups will split up to sit beside Israeli students in their classroom and laboratories. When the Israelis are studying other subjects — such as history and languages — the American art students will take field trips to galleries and museums, while the science majors visit laboratories and Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa.
The cost is $2,000 per student, which, Drotch said, will cover mainly airfare, ground transportation, and meals eaten away from the campus in Jerusalem. “Hopefully we will get funding for this, so kids can apply for trips like this in the future without concern for how they will pay.”
Even before they leave for Jerusalem, the travelers will hook up with the Israelis by Skype and e-mail. Each one will form a separate partnership with an Israeli student “so there will be a real human element where they can interact and share experiences,” said Drotch. And, he added, “as much as we are able to, we are trying to teach basic Hebrew, so they can read the alphabet and learn basic expressions.”
“We are trying to give our students exposure to different arts of the world. But beyond that, a trip likes this gives them the opportunity to make real human contact,” said Drotch. “I am looking forward to exposing these kids to a whole new culture. For these students it is a rich opportunity to learn about a part of the world they usually get to learn about through filtered news stories.”