Director Global Studies and World Languages Academy, Tallwood High School
Although Rebecca Gurley early on dreamed of designing academic models for tomorrow’s young people, her life took a different pathway – initially.
But, after years in retail that kept her traveling from city to city, she married and decided the time was right to change her career. This “southern country girl” proceeded to transform herself from a young lady who dressed mannequins into a teacher addressing the girls and boys of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“I simply enjoy being in education. Your students become your children,” notes Rebecca who leads the Global Studies and World Languages Academy, a specialty school within the public school system of Virginia Beach City that boasts a student body of 70,000. Admission is competitive; only 330 students are selected to come to the Academy annually.
As an educator, Gurley is a curriculum specialist. Instrumental in developing the proposal for what became the Academy, she also wrote her own job description in the process. After Tallwood High School approved the project, Dr. James Merrill, School Superintendent, offered her the position of Director.
International travel and exchange programs were included in the program as an integral part of the curriculum. Gurley cites, “YASE – the America – Israel Friendship League’s Youth Ambassadors Student Exchange – the first international exchange we adopted.” Asked why she selected the YASE program, she recalled, “Dr. Merrill’s participation in an AIFL’s Superintendents and State Educators delegation. He returned from Israel so enthusiastic, urging Virginia Beach to invite YASE to their schools. Today the program is in its fourth year.”
“Students”, says Gurley, “who want to join YASE must have heart, must want to share and be part of something bigger than their own community. My main message to them is to be open-minded, listen, observe and try to understand what is happening around the world.” One of the things they quickly learn is that individuals in Israel and elsewhere share common interests and values.
Gurley points out that “the concept of obligatory military service – especially to a group of mostly college bound students – is something the kids find intriguing. They are very amazed about the draft requirement in Israel.”
Rebecca describes traveling to Israel as part of YASE as more than just a trip to the Holy Land, but a process of self-discovery enabling participants to see themselves and a country through different prisms. “The experience itself becomes the testimony. When the American students return, it is obvious that the impact on their lives has been extraordinary. In return, as they share their insignts and tell their stories, there is that ripple effect of impacting other students’ lives as well.”
“Kids have passion,” says Gurley. “Our students love Israel and the Israeli students who visit. They have had wonderful interactions with all of the past delegations. Some of the students act as hosts, and some both host and travel to Israel. When they return they maintain contact with their Israeli cohorts.”
YASE is one of several exchange programs hosted by the Academy. In 2011, when the Israeli and Indonesian delegations arrived at the same time, an unexpected, multi-national discussion ensued. That the students could actually share thoughts firsthand and ideas was the best part!”
“The YASE program provides so many remarkable options”, adds Rebecca. “I look forward to working with YASE, to expand the program to include opportunities to present the Hebrew language, and Jewish and Israeli culture to the Virginia Beach community.”
“Even now, the YASE experience is bigger than the youth ambassadors, it involves the entire school community!”