JFCS Day of Learning, San Francisco, CA – March 23, 2014

by George J Elbaum

The Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) has organized an annual Day of Learning since 2003, inviting students and educators from schools throughout California to participate in numerous workshops to gain a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and patterns of genocide, and to inspire moral courage and social responsibility in the future. Each workshop includes a presentation of eyewitness testimony by a survivor of the Holocaust or genocide. This year’s Day of Learning was held at San Francisco’s Galileo High School, with more than 700 students and 140 educators from over 100 California schools participating in 18 workshops. My presentation to a workshop for educators entitled “New Perspectives in Thinking, Learning, and Teaching about the Holocaust” was arranged by JFCS’s Katie Cook, who was one of the organizers of the whole event, and it was augmented by Janine Okmin of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, her intern Chloe Knox, and Galileo teacher Joseph Taylor in whose classroom this workshop was held. JFCS volunteer Jamie Beck was my on-site guide, ensuring that I found the right room for my presentation and, afterwards, my car in a parking lot on the other side of Galileo’s tunnel :-)
the audience

with Janine Okmin, Joseph Taylor and Chloe Knox

with Janine Okmin, Joseph Taylor and Chloe Knox

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Milpitas High School, Milpitas, CA – March 20, 2014

by George J Elbaum

Milpitas High School (MHS) has a large and highly diverse student body – 3200 students, 38% Asian, 22% Filipino, 20% Hispanic, 20% White, and 4% African-American – and was the very first school in northern California to develop a Facing History course. Jack Weinstein, Facing History’s Director, taught at MHS from 1978 to 1997 and integrated Facing History’s resources early on within many of the school’s English courses. Then, in 1990, he developed a full-semester Facing History course focused on the Holocaust and Human Behavior. That course was an inter-disciplinary English and Social Studies course for 3 years, and then it evolved into a Social Studies elective focused not only on the Holocaust but on multiple case studies of genocide, human rights, and issues of race in American history. When Weinstein left MHS in 1997 to establish the Bay Area office of Facing History, it was continued by other teachers so the course is among the longest-running electives in the school’s history. In addition, nearly all freshman English courses now include a multi-week unit on the Holocaust with the study of Elie Wiesel’s Night as its centerpiece.

This was my second visit to MHS, and the 300-some students attending this talk were again well-prepared – most were from the multiple freshman English courses taught by Lindsay Mohundro, who organized the event, and Lynn Marozeck, Annie Marple, Ginger Roy and Skyler Draeger, all teachers who clearly passed their own enthusiasm to their students. Arrangements for my talk and the introduction were again made by Jack Weinstein of Facing History.

Jack Weinstein's introduction

Jack Weinstein’s introduction


The audience

The audience


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Jewish Family and Children’s Services, San Francisco, CA – March 12, 2014

by George J Elbaum

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.

The JFCS Holocaust Center conducts training seminars for middle and high school teachers on the Holocaust and genocide. The goal of these seminars is to share curriculum and discuss effective ways to teach tolerance and social responsibility. My talk was attended by a dozen teachers from the Davis, CA area. The seminar was arranged by Katie Cook, the Administrative Coordinator of the JFCS Holocaust Center, and also attended by Yedida Kanfer, Coordinator of Education Services.

the group

with Katie Cook

with Katie Cook

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Moreau Catholic High School, Hayward, CA – March 7, 2014

by George J Elbaum

One year after my first visit I returned to Moreau Catholic High School and teacher Samantha Wainwright’s well-prepared and enthusiastic students. Moreau is a college preparatory Roman Catholic secondary school established in 1965 by the Congregation of the Holy Cross. With college preparation as a focus for its 900 students, the results are admirable: of the recent graduating class, 100% went to college, 50% received at least one Merit-Based Scholarship/Award, and over 75% scored 3 or higher on their AP exams. As a result of this academic strength, Moreau was one of only 8 schools in California and 54 schools nationwide to be selected as a 2010 Apple Distinguished School, recognized for educational excellence through use of technology across its curriculum to provide its students with the 21st century skills needed to succeed.

However, as a community of faith, the school also prepares its students through social and spiritual learning to become responsible citizens of the global community. Thus, as part of its humanistic and liberal arts curriculum, Samantha Wainwright’s 10th grade English class includes a 6-weeks study of the Holocaust with reading of Eli Wiesel’s Night, and a variety of stories of victims, survivors and perpetrators, plus viewing applicable propaganda posters, watching the movie Life is Beautiful. Ms. Wainwright arranged my talk together with Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves. Also attending it were Librarians Anne Arriga and Jessica Simons.

whole group 1a

with audience


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Urban Science Academy, Boston, MA – February 27, 2014

by George J Elbaum

Urban Science Academy (USA) is a small public high school in the West Roxbury neighborhood of Boston created in 2005 as part of the High School Renewal Effort which reconstituted large comprehensive Boston schools into smaller, theme-based learning communities. With approximately 500 students and a curriculum centered on science and technology, USA focuses on important issues to prepare its students for college and the world. Asking the essential question, “What is our place in the world?,” it allows students to consider and challenge themselves to take part in finding their interests, and how they can contribute to the communities around them. USA classes consist of Humanities, Mathematics, Foreign Language and the sciences: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. The classes are designed, each in its own way, to recognize what part they attribute to the world, while at the same time empowering students to learn more.

My presentation was to 11th graders of Humanities III, which is a combination of History and English Language Arts and conducts a Holocaust & Human Behavior unit with readings from Elie Wiesel’s Night and related Facing History texts. The class has been taught for 3 years by Humanities teachers Tana Becker and Isabel Perez, who organized my visit along with Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves. Also in attendance were Humanities teacher Amy Eisenschmidt and Kirk Womack, who introduced me to the students.

group1a

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Nashoba Regional High School, Bolton, MA – February 27, 2014

by George J Elbaum

Nashoba Regional High School, in Bolton some 40 miles from Boston, is a suburban high school with an enrollment of nearly 1200 students. While there is very little diversity in the mostly white student body, there is strong awareness and interest in issues of diversity and tolerance in the world at large. To this end, a one semester elective course in Facing History was introduced and the reception has been extremely positive with 28 students registering for it the first year, which is high for a new elective. Its teacher, Michelle Fohlin, found that the students really want to look deeper into the Holocaust-specific material being studied and the broader related issues. For example, after a lesson on the all white “sundown towns” in America’s past, one of the students took the initiative by going to the town’s historical society for more information about his own region and why there was so little diversity. While the student discovered no evidence that it had been a “sundown town,” his initiative is admirable and shows the genuine interest and effects of the class.

My presentation was organized by teacher Michelle Fohlin and attended not only by her Facing History class but also joined by an English class studying World War II memoirs and an AP class of U.S. history. Facing History’s Judi Bohn and Danny Conklin coordinated my visit.

group2

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Novo Community School, San Jose, CA – January 30, 2014

by George J Elbaum

As a repeat of my previous 3 visits (March 23, 2010, Feb 9, 2011 and Feb 28, 2013), I was again invited to speak at the Novo Community School in San Jose.  Novo serves high risk students in grades 9-12 who are placed at the school for reasons such as expulsion, truancy, out-of-control behavior at school or home, and probation.  These students typically work in a classroom setting, interact with their peers and change classes in ways similar to those of a comprehensive high school.  However, the classes are small enough so the students are able to receive one-on-one assistance from their instructors, who not only provide academic instruction but also emphasize the skills needed to improve attendance and behavior.  There is strong emphasis in maintaining a safe, orderly school environment conducive to learning.

My visit was arranged again by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves and organized by Novo teacher Stephanie Boulianne.  Novo’s new Principal Jesse Ramos also attended the session.  As in previous years, Jack had prepared me by stressing that students in this special alternative school often lead very insular lives in a narrow social environment, yet paradoxically are quite ”worldly” in ways that may or may not be acceptable in society at large – they “may have made big mistakes or bad choices, but can sometimes reinvent themselves and commit to improving academically and in their life choices.”  This potential was evident in their questions, ranging from quite simplistic to thoughtful and sensitive, and also from the personal connection that some showed afterwards.

Jack Weinstein's introduction

Jack Weinstein’s introduction

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