While high school students from impoverished towns in Israel struggle with fewer resources - coming from families with low-income backgrounds - that didn't stop three Arab Israeli students from winning third place at the Young Engineers’ Conference in Israel.
They've won a partial scholarship to study science, technology, engineering or math at an Israeli university - which may make them the first generation in their family to attend a university.
Zoabi and his teammates are students at Bustan El-Marj Sci-Tech High School, part of the ORT Sci-Tech network of high schools, which aims to narrow achievement gaps by providing science education to students of diverse economic backgrounds. Tamim Zoabi’s father is a tow-truck driver and seasonal farm laborer, while Omari’s is a handyman. Masar Zoabi’s father died this year, and her mother does not work.
“Most of the students, their parents don’t have higher education,” said Shada Omari, a teacher at Bustan and the team’s adviser. “They’re working in agriculture and industry, not in high-tech or advanced things. If the students were in a population where the parents had higher education, they would have gotten further.”
Competitors in the conference work on everything from biomedical devices to military technology, but the Bustan team put its efforts into addressing a local problem. Each year, forest fires ravage the area where they live, a cluster of impoverished villages near Nazareth in the Galilee. Sometimes the fires burn for hours before their local understaffed fire department is able to extinguish them.
At first, the team set an ambitious goal: to build a robot that could enter a blaze and begin to fight it. They were supposed to begin the project halfway through 11th grade, but their school couldn’t afford the necessary resources or budget class time for the project. So they scaled back, focusing instead on an app capable of locating the nearest fire hydrant and identifying the fastest route for firefighters to get there.