Sparks of Science Program completes its 15th year 

At the heart of the Sparks of Science Program in Memory of Moshe Pergament is the belief that offering exposure to science at a young age could lead to future success—not just in science but in any path ahead. And indeed, in its 15-year history, the Sparks program has done just that, for more than 300 students of Ethiopian origin.

Two dozen students graduated from the program in late June came together with parents and other individuals who played key roles in their journey in the program, including mentors and staff.

The program brings together youth from 9th through 12th grades from Rehovot and a dozen municipalities in the area. Once a week, over the course of four years, participants take part in activities in biology, chemistry, computer science, and physics at the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Students also receive enrichment in English and math and participate in sessions dedicated to personal empowerment, decision-making, and time management. Some of the students are also trained as museum guides at the Clore Garden of Science.

The lion’s share of the budget for Sparks of Science has been supported by Hana and Irving Pergament in recent years, a gift they made to memorialize their son Moshe.  The Pergaments, Israelis who are long-time residents of New York, visit Israel every June to take part in the Sparks of Science commencement ceremony. “In the first year, the students arrive with only a vague idea about their future,” says Mr. Pergament. “Four years later, they have a path, and knowledge, and they want to pursue academic degrees. They are also better integrated into Israeli society.” (Pictured at right, Hana Pergament and program coordinator Belay Frai).

The shared joy of the families who met on the green lawns of the Davidson Institute transcended the marked differences between parents and their children: the generation that made its way from rural Ethiopia to modern Israel, and the young generation, whose members grew up in a different reality.  For the parents, most of whom had far fewer educational and professional opportunities, the Sparks of Science program is something they never dreamed of for themselves. “It is important for me to push her,” said Bamarit Ababa, the mother of Adi, a 9th grade student. “I came to this country with three kids, and my mind was in a different place. I had to survive. But Adi now has the option to become a doctor and help people, like others helped us. Or she can do whatever she wants, and she will succeed.”

The program also offers students the opportunity to meet researchers and professionals from industry, some of whom become role models. Orit Gasese, who just graduated the program said, “This program opened a range of options that I did not have. I am planning on becoming biomedical engineer; I would have never known about this profession nor have aspired to it had I not been in the Sparks of Science Program.”      

“We would like our students to reach the goals they have set for themselves,” said Frai Belay, the program coordinator. “We hope to increase the number of the Ethiopian-origin students who choose a science-major in high school, and who eventually become scientists. In addition, the exposure of these teenagers to the challenges that the program offers helps them build positive self-esteem and strengthen their confidence.”

This integration of Ethiopian community in Israel is one of the core goals of the program, beyond the personal push that it gives to each one of the students. “The biggest sign of success of this program would be when it is no longer be needed—when the  Ethiopian community would be fully integrated in Israeli society,” says Dr. Ariel Heimann, head of Davidson Institute. As one recent graduate, Avital Almayo, remarked at the commencement ceremomy, ”Thank you for making us aspire for something greater and not give up.”

 

The Sparks of Science Program is supported by Hana and Irving Pergament, the Roel C.C. Buck Family Foundation, Renee Companez, Steven Fredman, the estate of Sandra L. Gold, the estate of Ida Gold, the Sidney Greenberg Family Foundation, Avri Havron, the estate of Sunny Howard, donors of the Jewish Agency, the Prior Family Foundation, Eric Rubin, Gabriel Tolchinksy, Claire Weiss, the Pearl Welinsky Merlo Foundation, Hannah and Les Wende, and the Bernard and Norton Wolf Family Foundation.

Belay Frai and Hana Pergament