Rath receives Fulbright honor

Williston resident heading to Israel for research project

Williston resident Michelle Rath has received a Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program grant to conduct research in Israel. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

As director of school counseling at Essex High School for the past six years, Williston resident Michelle Rath has advised countless students planning a semester abroad.

Now, it’s her turn to have her passport stamped.

In January 2013, Rath will take a six-month sabbatical from her duties at EHS to participate in a research project in Israel through the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program. She’s one of just 20 U.S. educators selected for the honor, which, unlike the teachers-only Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program, is also available to guidance counselors, school coordinators and library professionals.

“I’ve always been interested in doing an exchange program, and all of the exchange programs for educators have been geared toward either teachers or principals, and I’m neither a principal nor a teacher,” Rath said. “School counselors really don’t get a whole lot of awards or accolades, because a lot of what we do is behind closed doors.”

Seven countries partnered with the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program for the 2012-2013 school year: Finland, Israel, Mexico, Morocco, Singapore, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Israel was a natural first choice for Rath, whose research project will focus on crisis management in schools. A fluent Hebrew speaker, she lived in Israel for a period in the 1980s and is well-versed in the politics of a country that has been divided along religious lines since its establishment in 1948.

“I figured with Israel constantly being under crisis management, they must have really good protocols in terms of how they handle it in their schools,” said Rath, whose daughter, Mikaela, will take a semester off from Champlain Valley Union High School to live in Tel Aviv with her mother and attend an Israeli high school.

Rath has also considered the very real possibility that a shooting war could erupt in the region if Israel launches a pre-emptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“Knowing what the political situation is now, it’s something that I’m totally prepared for,” she said. “I hope that we don’t have to prepare for that, but it’s obvious that that’s something that could happen at any time.”

Although Rath will be based in Tel Aviv and will meet regularly with an adviser at Tel Aviv University, she will also have the opportunity to travel around the country as part of her research.

“My time is my own. I know that I have to meet with my adviser once a week, but how often I’m out in the field at different high schools (is something) I set up,” Rath said. “My guess is, because I’m hoping to go to different schools, by the very nature of the research I will be out in different communities seeing different parts of the country.”

She added that she expects that the types of crises Israeli school counselors encounter will vary dramatically depending on the area of the country.

“My guess is were I to go very far up north, near the border of Syria or Lebanon, those schools will have dealt with crises like Katyusha rockets and all that. If I were to go down south, the same thing. There are a lot of communities there that have been under siege or under fire,” Rath said. “My guess would be if I were in Tel Aviv at one of the large schools there, maybe the issue is more around the influx of immigrants and … the assimilation and the integrating of different cultures.”

Even though she visited Israel as recently as two years ago, Rath is prepared for a completely new experience this time around.

“I think it will be fascinating,” she said. “Having lived in Israel, things unfold at their own pace, and I just sort of have to expect the unexpected.”