Biton’s students practice finding their location on a map during a hike. Photo Courtesy of Lisa Biton
Menlo alumna Lisa Biton (‘03) always knew that she wanted to be a teacher, but she never expected to find herself in a classroom 7,000 miles from home. After graduating from Menlo, Biton matriculated to Santa Clara University where she grappled with anti-semitism and decided to explore her Jewish faith. While still in college, Biton studied abroad in Israel, where she fell in love with the country and her future husband. All the while, she continued to pursue her teaching dreams.
According to Biton, she knew from childhood that she wanted to become a teacher, and her former Menlo educators provided further inspiration. “I had a couple of really inspiring teachers at Menlo, and I’m not just saying that for the interview, but Dobbie Nichols Vasquez was my Latin teacher,” Biton recalled. “When I was a freshman, she gave me a lot of extra work, but, in the end, she gave me the ability to see that I could be a leader, and learn things and teach other people.”
Vasquez’s support inspired Biton to join the Junior Classical League, an organization that emphasizes the study of Latin, Greek and other classics for students. “I was president of the Latin Club of California, and that never would have happened if [Vasquez] hadn’t stood up and said, ‘you know, you may not be great at Latin itself, but you can lead people,’” Biton said.
Biton aspired to become a role model for other students, just like how Vasquez was for her. “I always want to do that for other students, you know, to teach them the joy of learning things,” Biton said. “Great teachers can change lives.”
After moving to Israel, Biton realized that she was in the perfect place to become a role model and teacher in a country with a rich history. “The idea of teaching history in a place where history was, you know, thousands of years old and not just 100 years old, really spoke to me,” Biton said.
Biton currently teaches at the Alexander Muss High School, a study abroad school in Hod Hasharon, Israel. The students spend half the week in the classroom and the other half on trips, which Biton believes allows for deeper learning. “[We] sit and learn about the Romans in the classroom. The next day, we’ll climb Masada and learn about the Jews and the Romans on Masada and really experience that history,” Biton said.
Although she teaches in Israel, Biton’s students come from all over the United States, and occasionally from Australia and the United Kingdom. The students stay anywhere from a six-week summer program to a year. “Not to be stereotypical, but they come from all over the U.S., and a lot of them haven’t ever had a teacher really pay attention to them before,” Biton said.
Her school prioritizes one-on-one time with teachers, but a large part of the curriculum also derives from exploring the history and culture in their surroundings. “We go to Poland, and we hiked this hike called Yam el Yam, which is a four day hike from the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee,” Biton said. “These are all things that I just love challenging my students for.”
Back in the classroom, Biton always tries to implement Menlo’s unconventional teaching styles and academic rigor. “Menlo gave me the ability to question who I was and what I want to do with my life with a little bit of the outside of the box classes,” Biton recalled. “And so to be able to do that for my students now is something I carry on.”
Even 7,000 miles from home, Biton continues to interact with her former classmates. “I’m not the only person in my class who ended up in Israel. There was another boy in my grade, Michael Shapiro, who joined the [Israeli] army and that was a doctor here in Israel,” Biton said. “There’s still this, like, never ending connection where we all end up in the same place once in a while.”
Writer’s Note: If you are looking for an alumni mentor, search through Menlo Connect, a networking site exclusively targeted towards the Menlo community.
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