The parents of students at the technological high school at Israel's Nuclear Research Center-Negev in Dimona have never seen where their children study. The parents aren't allowed to visit, and the kids aren't allowed to tell them anything. Every morning, the children check their cellular phones on their way to another day at Israel's top-secret high school.
Ilan Hasson, who has served as the school's principal for the past two years, says that beyond not being able to tell their friends anything about what they do in school, potential students are required to pass a selection process and security probes.
"This is a high school that attracts students who want to learn attractive subjects. The school was founded to train students to work at [Israel's] nuclear facility. A successful student is flagged, and after he completes military service, he has an advantage in being hired here. The students can also work here during summer vacation and earn more spending money," Hasson said.
The school, shrouded in mystery, is part of the privately owned and run Atid technical school chain and located in the heart of the Dimona nuclear reactor. It trains new generations of youngsters in the professions needed in Israeli industry, both military/defense and civilian. Its purpose is to provide students with a sufficient professional base for them to return and work in the nuclear research facility or in other Negev-based industries. The school offers educational tracks in chip processing; industrial electronics; applied technology; and more.
Next year the school plans to inaugurate a new track to train students to operate equipment in the chemicals industry and will open its doors to girls.
A large number of graduates continue their studies after their military service, and some are taken on to work at the Dimona facility, sometimes reaching senior positions there.
"Many of the graduates return after they finish their army service, and it's very interesting for an educator to see graduates of the school alongside current pupils. I've been the principal of other schools, but the conditions here are incalculably different," Hasson notes.
Employees of the facility, who take the young students under their wing, teach them the professions and support them in their studies, strengthening the ties between the school and the national project. The nuclear research center also offers incentive scholarships of a few hundred shekels to all 10th-graders for short working hours. Students in the 11th and 12th grades study three days a week and work two, for pay.
Director of the nuclear facility Dr. Udi Netzer said, "We see ourselves as part of the community and are proud to play a meaningful part in the school. The reactor workers take part in the school activities and serve as professional mentors for the students."
Matan Levi, who is finishing 12th grade in the chip processing track and continuing on to two additional years of study, says: "Studying at this school changes all the child's perceptions and way of thinking. You can hear them talking about mortgages and buying a home. I feel a lot more mature than other kids my age, and I understand that without studying, you can't move ahead [in life]."
Levi says he deals with the secrecy and with the fact that he cannot tell much: "Parent-teacher meetings are held in other places, and it's better that the parents don't see what we do. I can't tell my friends what I do, either. I tell them I'm learning a profession, and they accept that."
Roni, who graduated from the high school in 1988 and today works as a project manager at the reactor as well as a mentor for the high schoolers, says he is glad he made the decision to study there. "I finished high school and started a career," he says.
"I work in a very special place that gives me a very special feeling, as well as the sense that I'm doing something for education in Israel. I see my work as a calling. It's also important to me to serve as a mentor for the students, some of whom come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The school gives them a profession and the sense that they are worth the same as anyone else," Roni says.
Atid CEO Amiad Gurevich says that "although the Atid school [at the Dimona reactor facility] has developed and grown considerably in recent years, we are most proud not that it has expanded, but of its quality and achievements. A hundred percent of our graduates earn a completion certificate and 75 percent of the students successfully pass their matriculation exams."
"The main reason for that is that the school provides the student with a supportive environment and a warm home that lets the student live up to his potential and abilities," Gurevich says.