The Authority for Community and Youth is part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Its main purpose is to act as an extension of the university in the community and bring science enrichment to K-12 students. According to Director Osnat Cohen, this function is essential to carrying out the university’s larger mission.
“We are a public organization. The knowledge that we have belongs to the public. We have to share it,” Cohen says. “Our vision is wider. We believe that knowledge and education can bring the solutions to many of society’s problems.”
The Authority for Community and Youth is composed of three centers that work together to meet the common aim of “broadening and expanding the population’s exposure to the sciences.”
The first, The Center for Partnership and Outreach, coordinates with university staff and academics to organize lectures, tours, and events open to the public.
The second, the Joseph Meyerhoff Youth Center for Advanced Studies, is unique among Israeli universities. The program enlists graduate-level students to go into schools to enrich curriculum and stimulate interest in the sciences.
Finally, the Belmonte Science Center for Youth is a lab complex located on the Hebrew University campus, with 11 state-of-the-art labs open to high school science classes that otherwise would not have access to such facilities.
“Our principles are to encourage creative thinking, innovative thinking, and curiosity—to be interested in the sciences,” Cohen says. “We see so many aspects of physics, biology and other sciences because the world around us is science.”
Driven by the belief that the advancement of education brings significant improvements in community welfare, Hebrew University has embraced a number of community outreach initiatives over the years. In 1990, the late Itzchak Parnas, a professor of neurobiology, formed the Authority for Community and Youth by combining these initiatives into one cohesive organization.
“The Hebrew University built this organization to do more in the community and to do more educational outreach with schools,” Cohen says. “. . . Everyone believed it was a priority. Everyone believed there was a place for it. Professor Parnas—a man of vision and a man of action—was the one that delivered it.”
From the beginning, the organization has worked to build bridges between the university and the community—and within the community itself. Its youth programs seek to make science fun, engaging, and relatable.
MOST REWARDING PART OF THE PROGRAM
For Cohen and her colleagues, some of the most rewarding moments come when the Authority engages with underserved communities in Israel’s peripheral cities.
“When we go into cities of low socio-economic status—mostly smaller cities in the south of Israel far away from the university—there’s geographic distance, but also conceptual distance because the parents of the kids in these programs never went to university,” she says. “It’s rewarding to see these kids feel at home in the university and start talking about academic life in the future.”
Many current university students in the sciences went through Authority programs in their elementary and high school years.
MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THE PROGRAM
One of the most common challenges the Authority faces is ensuring teachers also continue to learn.
“The traditional education system is old-fashioned—it moves slowly and it updates itself slowly. Teachers are often behind the students,” Cohen says. “It’s a challenge to enrich and empower the teacher without pushing him or her to the side. You want the teacher to be with you, to be on your side. You want the teacher to have a place in the activity.”
To encourage such cooperation, the Authority places a premium on professional development and training courses for teachers to help them keep their science curricula up to date with the latest research.
“Geography is here. Geography means everything,” Cohen says. “We are in Israel so that means a lot for us. The geography of Israel, being partly Jewish and partly Arab, locating us in the Middle East, has a lot of meaning for us. We work to improve coexistence on a daily basis. Many of our programs exist to build bridges between Jewish and Arab kids. Geography influences our program in this way. We talk a lot about understanding, tolerance and being open-minded in our programs. Our program is raised from this geography that influences every aspect of our lives.”
Additionally, the Authority is expanding the scope of its work to incorporate the social sciences, which includes the Hebrew University’s Geography Department.
The main message the Authority has for students is to “stay curious and keep an open mind” and to take advantage of the everyday opportunities for learning.
“As we get older, our minds and the way we think become more and more fixed. When you’re young, keep that curiosity and the passion to continue learning. Every child has that, but many of them lose it. Be excited by learning new things, not only in science but in any area,” Cohen says.
Cohen notes there are a number of online science competitions that give students a fun, engaging way to learn about science, teamwork, and ingenuity.
“These days, when everything is so accessible through the Internet, people have a lot of opportunities in digital space,” she says. “There are competitions and programs specifically for youth that require you to build and develop something and to think creatively, often in teams. This is something that children anywhere can do in digital space.”
“As we get older, our minds and the way we think become more and more fixed. When you’re young, keep that curiosity and the passion to continue learning. Every child has that, but many of them lose it. Be excited by learning new things, not only in science but in any area.”
—Dr. Osnat Cohen, Authority for Community and Youth
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