Fernando Rivera Intermediate School, Daly City, CA – June 2, 2015

by George J Elbaum

Fernando Rivera Intermediate School (Fernando) is a public middle school (grades 6-8) in Daly City.  Its total student body is almost 500 with high diversity: 39% Filipino, 29% Asian, 15% Hispanic, and 17% all other.  Fernando received a 2013 California Distinguished School Award as its academic test scores were approximately 25% higher than California averages.

My presentation at Fernando was to 200 8th graders whose preparation included reading the play version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in their Reading & Language Arts course, and it was arranged directly by its teacher, Lindsay (Lu) Bazela, whom I met when she was the facilitator at my presentations at the JFCS Day of Learning on March 8, 2015.  On my webpost for that JFCS event I wrote the following: “My presentations were to 2 student workshop sessions entitled ‘Who Lived in the Ghettos?  A Study of the Socio-Economic Spectrum,’ which were organized and led by Lu Bazela, a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher of Social Science at the Fernando Rivera Intermediate School in Daly City.”

In preparing this text I sought information on Fernado from its website, but there were no specifics (the information in the first paragraph above is from other sources) except for its memorable motto: “Be Kind, Be Responsible, Always be the Best you can be, That’s the Fernando Attitude, And the Choice is yours!”  I therefore asked Ms. Bazela for some “good words” that reflect the flavor of the school and the high spirit of the students that was clearly evident during my talk.  Her reply follows.

“We very much live by our motto at out school… every day!  “Be Kind, Be Responsible, and Always be the Best you can be. The Choice is yours!”  It’s stated every morning at announcements and it starts our day off right.  Our students look out for one another and spirit is a big part of our school.  There is a special spirit trip for kids who’ve hit enough spirit points.  Goofiness is encouraged and treating others well is encouraged.  Kids who do not know me talk to me every day and encourage me to have a great day.  It’s remarkable, all the positivity.  Kids are encouraged to think positively, to be good to the community, and to have faith in their own power, to have a good day.  Staff and administration are strong and positive as well.”

Indeed, enthusiastic teachers result in enthusiastic students!

photo right

photo right

photo left

photo left

 

| Leave a comment

Arroyo High School, San Lorenzo, CA – May 22, 2015

by George J Elbaum

Arroyo High School in San Lorenzo, across the bay from San Francisco, has a high diversity student body of approximately 1,900 students. It is organized into several “schools within a school,” and this is the 4th year in a row that I have visited and spoken to its Future Academy for Social Change.  The audience was approximately 100 10th grade students taking the Facing History-based unit taught by teacher Jorja Santillan, who again organized my visit as arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History.  Based on my past visits, I knew that the student audience would be enthusiastic and well-prepared, and I was not disappointed.  I observed again how Jorja Santillan’s enthusiasm and energy transfer to her students, whom she prepares and guides through the various aspects of the Holocaust.  In her own words: “It’s so important that they understand how complex the Holocaust is through different stories, and how crucial it is that this history be kept alive.  I tell my students that now it’s their responsibility to carry it on along with their own histories.”

On this visit to Arroyo I saw in the library 13 desk-top Holocaust memorials (shown on the photos below) which were built by Jorja Santillan’s students as part of the Facing History unit, and after the visit I emailed her asking how she defined this assignments for her students.  Rather than just addressing the memorials, she broadened her answer by describing her approach to teaching the Facing History unit, as follows:

“During our study of the Holocaust, my students have engaged in a variety of activities to complicate their thinking about issues related to it.  We initially discussed the power of labels and how they can positively or negatively impact us.  This relates to the impact of hateful labels and stereotyping of the Jews (also other groups), which were exploited by Hitler and his regime.  Students also developed their understanding of the history of anti-Semitism, the historical context leading up to WWII, how the Nazis continuously gained power, and the murderous strategies used to annihilate Jews and other minority groups.  In addition, we also studied bystanders and upstanders during the Holocaust because students often think that the Jews or others did not resist, which many did.  We discussed how there are many ways to resist even if not through physical force.  Next, they would navigate Birkenau online, reading about the different areas of this concentration camp and viewing photos to give them a glimpse of what Elie Wiesel experiences in Night.  As we read it, we focused on the power of faith to inspire or to destroy, the dehumanization and the struggle to survive.  As we study the Holocaust and read Night, I remind students that there are many different Holocaust stories, and that it’s a complex issue with multiple perspectives or experiences.

For the culmination of the unit, students create a Holocaust memorial to honor a person, group, or event.   They review existing memorials in the US to get ideas, and then work in groups of 3 or 4 to create a proposal outlining the details of the memorial (title, sizes, materials, location, and artist’s statement explaining the symbolism), which I approve.  Afterwards they construct the memorial and, once finished, they present it to the class.  After all the presentations, each class voted on the memorials they believed were the best representations to exhibit in the library.”

It is the dedicated, enthusiastic, energetic teachers like Jorja Santillan who truly teach our next generation, and thus on whom our country’s future depends.

the audience

the audience

Jack Weinstein's introduction

Jack Weinstein’s introduction

end of presentation

end of presentation

| Leave a comment

Nashoba Valley Technical High School, Westford, MA – April 9, 2015

by George J Elbaum

Nashoba Valley Technical High School is a public, four-year, career-focused high school with 700+ students and a unique Dual Enrollment Program which prepares students for college as well as for a career.  When enrolled in this Program, students alternate between one week in academic classes and one week in one of 18 industry-approved technical programs.  Each technical program has the support of a unique Program Advisory Board made up of business leaders, owners, entrepreneurs and representatives from colleges and universities throughout the region.  (Program selection is very diverse and includes Automotive Repair, Banking/Marketing/Retail, Carpentry, Cosmetology, Electronics, Plumbing, Programing, etc.)  The Dual Enrollment Program allows students in their junior or senior year to attend one of several local colleges on a full time basis while still enrolled as a high school student.  Once a student qualifies for Dual Enrollment, the student must also pass a placement test at one of the colleges, and the student’s family is responsible for college tuition, fees and books, and transportation.

One of the academic courses at the school is based on Facing History concepts whose teacher Dave Fusco organized my presentation.  It was attended by approximately 150 10th grade students as well as teachers ?????? (names, pls?).  The presentation was arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.

(Additional information for the text above and the photos below is forthcoming…..I hope!)

| Leave a comment

Edge School at Sunol, San Jose, CA – April 29, 2015

by George J Elbaum

As a repeat of my previous 4 visits (2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014), I was invited to speak at the Edge School at Sunol (ex-Novo Community School) in San Jose.  Edge 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.

My visit was arranged again by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves and was organized by Edge teacher Stephanie Boulianne.  The session was also attended by Edge’s Principal Jesse Ramos as well as teachers and staff Christina Hernandez, Michael Pressman, Anthony Dominguez, Francisco Alfaro, Jessie Cisneros, Harry Isom, John Lee, Rose Wallace, Laura Ojeda, Gretchen Eddingfield, and Gary Granger.  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 very thoughtful and sensitive, and also from the personal connection that some showed afterwards.

Introduction by Jack Weinstein

Introduction by Jack Weinstein

| Leave a comment

Tremont School, Weston, MA – April 8, 2015

by George J Elbaum

The Tremont School is a small private school located in Weston, MA, though its students come from Boston and the surrounding towns.  In its 4th year of existence, it currently has 46 students in grades 5 – 9, with the plan of expanding to 12th grade.  The school’s basic hypothesis is that the most stimulating educational environment is created by a deep and real partnership between students, teachers, parents, and administrators, and it firmly believes that learning is an ongoing exchange among all members of the school community, and that each student brings to that community strengths and interests that should be nurtured and shared for the benefit of all.  Students thus learn in an environment that supports their making connections between thinking and doing.  Teaching is therefore in a project-based curriculum which provides opportunities to develop hands-on projects that tug at the very core of an issue and develop in students the opportunity to question, analyze, and draw conclusions based on their own framework of understanding.

Since the student population has a variety of learning styles, the mission of the school is to serve this variety.  Many of the kids are “out of the box” thinkers or are kids who benefit from a small and personalized learning community.  Per current curriculum, grades 5 – 8 have been studying immigration, while grade 9 has spent the 1st semester studying Comparative Religion, and in the 2nd semester is examining what it means to be “great” in history, society, and literature.   The Holocaust will be a formal part of the 10th grade curriculum for next year but for the current presentation the students were given background information about it.

My presentation was organized by teacher Tore Kapstad, whom I met in 2012 when he organized my talk in another school.  It was also attended by Headmaster Bill Wilmot, Assistant Head of School Kathy Trogolo, and teachers Nina Schiarizzi, Jac Cohn, Irene Jackson, Mike MacGillivary, Ian Murphy, Bill Scheer and Ally Thomson.   Arrangements for the presentation were made by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.

Tremont

with teacher Tore Kapstad

with teacher Tore Kapstad

with students

with Aeden, Mark, Slater, Evan, Erich(back), Elias(back)

 

| Leave a comment

Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA – March 25, 2015

by George J Elbaum Gateway High School is a small (450 students) charter school which focuses on small class size, high academic standards, and a close student-to-faculty relationship, as well as a strong partnership with its students’ families and community.  Considering the unusual demographics of the student body, which reflect the diversity of San Francisco, the results are truly amazing:

  • More than 75% are students of color
  • More than 40% are the first in their family to attend college
  • More than 25% have a diagnosed learning disability
  • 45% fall below the poverty line
  • Yet more than 96% have gone to college, double the California average!

This success is reflected in Gateway being currently one of seven schools featured on the U.S. Department of Education’s Doing What Works website, being named one of Newsweek’s 2010 Best Public High Schools (only 6% of all public schools in the U.S. are so named), and being designated as a California Distinguished School and a 21st Century School of Distinction. What accounts for this amazing success?  The major factor is undoubtedly Gateway’s special support programs for students aimed at its mission “to send 100% of our students to college.”  Towards that goal: -Each student is paired with a faculty advisor who guides him/her through the school experience and serves as a consistent contact for families. -Gateway’s Learning Center provides support for all students, especially those with learning differences, in the forms of tutorial support, learning strategy instruction, intensive reading instruction, assistive technology, and more. -90% of students utilize Gateway’s after-school tutoring program which offers tutoring in one-on-one and small-group settings to students. -Students who are significantly below grade level in reading participate in Gateway’s intensive reading program. On average, students who complete this program increase their reading by up to four grade levels. Furthermore, from my personal observation another major factor is the relationship between Gateway’s young, enthusiastic and dedicated teachers and the students.  (The teachers spend the equivalent of 23 extra working days each year on their professional growth.) My talk at Gateway for the 10th grade humanities class was organized by humanities teacher Molly Orner, attended by teachers Lauren Slykhous, Stephen Flynn and Paul Heasman, and organized by Katie Cook of the Jewish Family and Children’s Center.

Letters from Students

Several weeks after my talk at Gateway I received a pack of letters from the students and, as has become our habit, my wife Mimi and I read the letters after dinner, excerpted phrases or statements that resonated with us, and these are listed below.

  • What especially stood out to me was “always fight for something, not against something.”
  • Golden Rule, baby :-)
  • Opening your universe of obligations is really important in making peace.
  • I will remember what you told us about the Polish boy who changed his opinion because of your story, making anti-Semitism decrease one by one.
  • I think what you’re doing is wonderful – you stopped being silent and not only wrote books but you also speak to strangers, like us.
  • I think expression of experiences, however painful, is the only way to heal them.  I have the most profound respect for how you grew from it.
  • I liked what you said about yesterdays and tomorrows – at first, not thinking about them was a method for coping during the Holocaust, but afterwards, when doing what you loved, there were no yesterdays nor tomorrows because you lived life in the moment.
  • One student decorated his/her note with a fanciful drawing of Golden Gate bridge with “Thank” spelled out by its towers & suspension cables, the skyline of San Francisco beneath the bridge, and the bay beneath the skyline with waves, fish, and seaweed spelling out “You”. To this I can only answer: Thank you!

(Please send me first names of #1, #6, and #4 in photos below.  Thank you.)  whole class

| Leave a comment

JFCS Day of Learning, San Francisco, CA – March 8, 2015

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 again at San Francisco’s Galileo High School, with more than 600 students and 100 educators participating in 15 workshops for students and 3 for educators.  My presentations were to 2 student workshop sessions  entitled “Who Lived in the Ghettos?  A Study of the Socio-Economic Spectrum”, which were organized and led by Lu Bazela, a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher of Social Science at the Fernando Rivera Intermediate School in Daly City.

JFCS’s Katie Cook arranged my presentations as well as being one of the key organizers of the whole event, and JFCS volunteer Debbie Aquaro was my on-site guide, ensuring that I found the right room for my presentations and, afterwards, that I didn’t get lost leaving Galileo High School  :-).

1st workshop with teacher Lu Bazela

1st workshop with teacher Lu Bazela

2nd workshop

| 2 Comments