Top Teach For America corps members met this past week with their Teach First Israel counterparts to learn from one another how best to inspire students in disadvantaged areas to succeed in school and to work on a communal vision of educational equality.

Andrew Mandel, VP of Special Projects at Teach for America, told Arutz Sheva that the purpose of the ten-day journey is “to explore issues of change, of inequity, and of values, to help us decide how we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.”

He added that “Our gathering will not stop at trading teaching tips. It will involve sharing what we are learning from our experiences in the classroom and what larger changes it suggests we must make in our respective countries on behalf of our students and communities.”

The encounter was just one stop for Teach For America corps members on the REALITY Israel Experience program, supported by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation (CLSFF) and the Samberg Family Foundation in partnership with Teach For America and the ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators. The ten-day trip is designed to introduce corps members to Israel’s education and social justice systems, give them exposure to top Israeli leaders and thinkers, and help them uncover and recommit to the values that drive their passion for public service.

“We have a great opportunity to have our participants meet their peers from America,” said Asaf Banner, CEO and Founder of Teach First Israel. “They’re actually doing the same thing: teaching in ‘red schools’ as we call them: schools with kids from a low social-economic background. They try to do their best in order to change their lives.”

Both Teach For America and Teach First Israel are based on a simple but powerful concept: Enlist top college graduates to become lifelong champions for educational equity by first recruiting them to teach for two years with students from low-income backgrounds. They are both part of the Teach For All network—a collection of independent social enterprises working to expand educational opportunities in their respective countries—and are highly selective.

Last year, 48,000 people applied for 5,200 spots with Teach For America. Similarly, Teach First Israel chose 90 out 1,400 applicants for the coming school year. In 2011-2012, it will be expanding from Jerusalem, Be’er Sheva, Haifa, Horfeish, Holon, Bat Yam, Petach Tikva and Or Yehuda to include schools in Lod, Acco, Kiryat Shmona, Arad and Dimona.

Mandel spoke excitedly about meeting the Israelis, saying, “We’ve had the opportunity to meet with social entrepreneurs, with leaders in the political world, in the business world, in the non-profit world, and I think we’ve really been able to see a bit of that ‘start-up nation’ that we’ve read about prior to our visit.

“The spirit of the Israeli entrepreneur,” he added, “comes through not only in business leaders but in many people across the country who are trying to make change, and I think that that’s given us a lot of inspiration.”

Adam Simon, Associate National Director of the Schusterman Family Foundation, added that through the visit to Israel, the Americans have “gotten a connection to the issues that they care about and found personal motivation using Israel as the backdrop for exploring themselves, who they are, and who they want to be.”