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.

(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 Riviera Middle 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

Academy of Arts and Sciences, San Francisco, CA – March 5, 2015

by George J Elbaum

The Academy of Arts and Sciences is a small public high school with a total enrollment of only 341 students (82% minority, 48% economically disadvantaged) and 18 full-time teachers, and the school’s program focuses on “the three Rs:  RELATIONSHIPS, RELEVANCE and RIGOR.”  This starts with a belief that strong RELATIONSHIPS are the most fundamental part of a successful school.  If students do not feel supported and cared for when they are on campus, then their academic and social-emotional success in school is compromised.  Additionally, if students feel that what they are learning does not matter to them and is not being taught using RELEVANT pedagogy, they are less engaged and less likely to have a positive academic experience.  Finally, if students have a positive relationship with their teachers and staff members and they enjoy a relevant learning experience, then the school can provide them with a RIGOROUS curriculum and expectations.  The Academy’s small school setting allows its teachers to create an effective learning environment by working closely with students and their families in building a strong community.  Within this community, teachers are able to give more individual attention to students and communicate regularly with parents.

The school also has a unique Wellness Center and Program whose goal is to provide support for students so they may succeed academically and be healthy in body, mind and spirit. To accomplish this, the Wellness Program coordinates and provides non-judgmental, student-focused health, mental health, and substance abuse services and programs for students on campus.

My talk to the 10th grade classes of World History was organized by history teacher Claire Darby and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves, who made the introduction.

ASHS54a

with Jack Weinstein after his introduction

with Jack Weinstein after his introduction

| Leave a comment

Kent Mountain View Academy, Des Moines, WA – February 23, 2015

by George J Elbaum

Kent Mountain View Academy (KMVA) is a grade 3-12 public school in Des Moines, WA, about 30 mi. south of Seattle.  Designated as one of Washington’s Innovative Schools in each of the past several years, KMVA is small – it has the smallest campus by far of the 40 schools in Kent School District, which dictates that its peak enrollment will never be more than 400 students.  Yet KMVA is the only site in its District able to facilitate the needs of elementary through senior high students, and it does so by its efforts to be a community partnership including students, families, and the District to provide educational options and flexibility in a stimulating environment to produce academic achievement.  Because of its small size KMVA is better able to keep students from falling through the cracks, and it allows the teachers to work with them over a course of multiple of years.

KMVA is unusual in several aspects: students attend it by choice rather than by geographical location, many have been home schooled prior to KMVA, and the school maintains a strong focus on family and community.  For example, it groups 3rd-6th graders together and 7th-12th graders together so that students can maintain contact with their siblings, and 3rd-6th graders are grouped in multi-age home rooms where the first and last parts of each day are spent so that siblings start and end each school day together.  There is also special education on a limited scale and these students can be integrated into regular classes as ability allows.  A feeling of community/small family among the staff is clearly evident and surely benefits the educational environment for both regular and special students.  This is especially attractive to families who have previously home schooled and are interested in accessing public education, families who want all of their children on one campus, students who are looking for a small environment where they remain with a core group of teachers over a period of years, and students interested in a highly academic environment.

I had visited KMVA three years ago (November 7, 2012), received a heart-warming welcome, spoke at that time to the 6th grade class, and I looked forward to returning.  What made my visit this time especially interesting and gratifying was that the 6th graders of three years ago were now 9th graders, that Annalise who baked and greeted me with her lemon bars both times and Michael who greeted me with heartfelt posters both times were both taller than I, and that Jason organized and produced a video on the Holocaust that put a lump in my throat. My visit this time was arranged by Amanda Davis of the Holocaust Center for Humanity and it was organized by Pat Gallagher, KMVA’s Instructional Facilitator, who told the students at the end of my talk that I have empowered them, and “When you see something not right, can you do something about it?  Will you?”

Letters from Staff and Students

Several weeks after our visit I received a letter from Pat Gallagher.  I was deeply moved by and appreciative of this letter, especially of Pat’s words “investing in people on the heart level.”  (To share Pat’s words I’ve posted his letter next to the photo of the two of us, below.)  I choose to speak almost exclusively to young people because I truly feel that the seeds of truth & fairness & tolerance must be implanted at a young age or these will not grow, and at that age the only way to implant such a serious and life-long message is at the heart level.

About the same time I also received an envelope with a couple dozen letters from teacher Patti Billet’s 6th grade class.  The letters were very gratifying, and my wife Mimi and I read these after dinner, as has become our “ritual” on receiving student letters, and from the letters we selected and excerpted phrases that particularly resonated with us.  These excerpts are listed below.

  • My great-grandfather died in a concentration camp. I have never been to Poland but I want to go there.
  • My great-grandparents lived in Poland, and they were caught helping Jewish children hide during the war. If the soldier who caught them had not had just a drop of kindness (and let them go), I might not be here today….
  • If someone really sets their mind to something, they can do great things – or in Hitler’s case, terrible things. Hitler was a very powerful speaker, so if he had set his mind on something good, WWII probably wouldn’t have happened, and Germany – or the world – might have been a better place.
  • It’s really cool how you can tell something that is hurtful without missing a beat. My grandpa was telling me about my great grandfather when he was a slave, and I tried to tell that story to my older sister and I couldn’t.
  • I have always been fascinated about making images in my head of people’s memories, ESPECIALLY yours. It’s basically reading a picture book in my head.  It was so amazing and inspirational.
  • The way you told your story made it so I could picture it in my mind.
  • The part that really changed my life was when you said: “Live in the present, not the past or future. If people become distraught with what has happened or will happen, we would never learn to forgive.”  That really gave me things to think about.
  • The thing that touched me the most was when you said: “It is better to be for something than against” This is something that we can all apply to our lives.
  • Having someone who actually went through it, come and share it with us, was such an honor. It has given me a whole new perspective on the world and the tragedies of war.
  • The answers to your challenge questions are: Would I hide a Jew?  Truthfully I would, but I would be paranoid of everything.  2. Would I stand up against a bully?  Yes, I definitely would.
  • Would I hide a Jew, risking my own life? Would I stand up for a victim of bullying?  My answer to the first question, it’s something I never imagined I would do.… The second question I find myself unable to answer, maybe because it’s something that happens around me in communities and that’s why I can’t find the answer within me.
  • I just wanted to say that I would hide that little Jewish boy even if it meant my life, because I would want to die knowing that I made a difference in this world.
  • You gave me a reason to do the right thing.
  • It really touched me when you said that you live by the Golden Rule. I decided to live like that too.
  • Your story inspired me to live life without hate in my heart.
  • When I grow old I am going to make my children aware of this important event. You are passing your story to us.  We have a choice of what to do with it.  I choose to share it with as many people as I can.
  • You are starting a legacy, and a legacy must be spread everywhere. Your words meant something to me:  we have a choice, to hate or to love, to be sad or to be happy.  I hope I always choose the positive side of things.
Introduction by Pat Gallagher

Introduction by Pat Gallagher

the group

| Leave a comment

University Prep, Seattle, WA – February 20, 2015

by George J Elbaum

University Prep (U Prep) is an independent day school with more than 500 students in grades 6 through 12. While it is fundamentally a college preparatory school (as one might gather from its name), its goal is to prepare students not only academically for college but also ethically and socially for their life beyond college.  It thus prides itself and emphasizes its formally-stated Mission, Vision and Values, and strives to ensure that these are “at the heart of everything we do at our school.”

– Mission: University Prep is committed to developing each student’s potential to become an intellectually courageous, socially responsible citizen of the world.

– Vision:  University Prep shall be an inclusive community of learners that provides an outstanding education for each individual in a diverse student population.

– Values: University Prep believes that integrity, respect, and responsibility are essential to accomplish its mission and to sustain its vision.

While U Prep’s curriculum is rigorous, the educational environment is supremely supportive – entering students come from more than 60 different schools, public and independent (approximately half & half) throughout the Seattle area and beyond.  Because many of its students commute to school from such a wide geographic area, the school facilitates this by University Prep’s Metro Custom Bus system – with more than 85 pick-up and drop-off locations, it serves students who live throughout the Greater Seattle/Eastside area.

The school prides itself in its diversity: 33% of its students and 29% of its faculty/staff are of color, and over 18% of its students receive significant financial aid.  Average class size is 16-18, student/teacher ratio is 9:1, and 76% of the faculty has advanced degrees.

How does all this manifest itself in preparation for college?  U Prep’s standardized testing scores are well above the national average; 46% of the Class of 2014 were Washington State Scholars, with ten National Merit Commended Scholars and three National Merit Finalists,  98% of the Class of 2014 is attending college this fall; and over 150 national and international college representatives visit the school each fall – a very impressive record.

My presentation at U Prep was attended by the 10th grade course Modern to Contemporary World History plus students from the history elective Modern Jewish Tradition, and their preparation and awareness were evident by their questions, some asked for the first time in the 70+ times I’ve made this presentation.  It was organized by Karen Natorp Anderson, History Teacher and Head of the History Department, and was arranged by Amanda Davis of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.  Also present from the Center were Karen Chachkes and Richard Greene.

Introduction by teacher Karen Anderson

Introduction by teacher Karen Anderson

the group

| Leave a comment

St. Peter’s Elementary School, San Francisco, CA – January 8, 2015

by George J Elbaum

St. Peter’s Elementary School, founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1878, is an elementary and middle school with approximately 300 students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade.  The school is one of the Archdiocese of San Francisco Catholic Schools and a vital part of the parish, a predominantly Latino community in San Francisco’s Mission District.  Since its foundation, St. Peter’s has served all economic levels of the community by providing a well-rounded academic and Catholic education in a partnership with parents, who are recognized as the primary educators of their children.  “The school recognizes its important role in the growth and development of students and their families, and it thus promotes Gospel values and fosters peace, justice, integrity, honesty and love for learning.”

As part of that effort, St. Peter’s now has for its 8th graders a month-long study of the Holocaust taught by teacher Nina Martinez, who organized the event with help from the school’s Vice-Principal, Karen Hammen.  In preparation for my visit the students read Elie Wiesel’s Night, were very responsive and enthusiastic during my talk, and the next day one of them posted the following message on my website: “Having you share your experience with St. Peter’s 8th grade had a huge impact on us and on the way we thought of the Holocaust…. Thank you so very much for taking your time to talk to us.  The 8th graders and I at St. Peter’s appreciate it. :) “  My presentation was arranged by Katie Cook of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

In mid-March I received in the mail a large envelope with 50 matching Thank You cards from the students, each in its own small envelope addressed “To George”.  Several of these envelopes were very creative visually: a unique font designed by the student, or artistic spirals along with “To George”, or a tall font of capital letters plus a small script “george” written horizontally across the middle of the capital letters – truly unique and eye-catching!

As we usually do upon receiving student letters, after dinner my wife Mimi read each of the cards aloud while I listened and absorbed the student’s message, and we selected sentences or phrases that especially resonated with us to add to the post on my website.  These are listed below:

  • You telling me your life’s story has really made me change the way I think of life.
  • I have learned that even a small smile could have a great impact.
  • Your response to the cube of sugar that the Russian officer gave you made me think how many of us take things for granted. You have helped us learn that we need to appreciate those little things.  Thank you for coming.
  • When you barely had food to eat and just ate that cube of sugar I was shocked and felt bad because I eat all the food I want, and that makes me feel like I’m spoiled.
  • I got to experience a Holocaust survivor retell his story and I am extremely grateful.
  • One day my children will talk about what they learned in school about the Holocaust and I’ll be able to tell them that I met you, that you didn’t blame everyone, that you forgave most Germans and only held the ones directly responsible. I will learn to forgive and pass on these values.
  • You taught me that some people can hear the truth but don’t believe it because they don’t want to.
  • You taught me a valuable life lesson that I will never forget and that is to never look back because it has already happened and you can’t change it.
  • What I learned is to show life that I can overcome as many obstacles as I want.
  • I have learned that sometimes being odd and cheeky can come into use.
  • I know we didn’t ask the most memorable questions, but I hope you will remember us as we will remember you.
  • I’ll bet that God wanted you to share your experiences.
  • God is with you, God loves you, and God blessed you.

group2a

| Leave a comment

Summit Preparatory Charter High School, Redwood City, CA – December 17, 2014

by George J Elbaum Summit Preparatory Charter High School is one of seven Summit Public Schools serving 2000 students from the Bay Area’s diverse communities.  Summit’s mission is to prepare its diverse student population for success in a four-year college or university, and to be thoughtful, contributing members of society.  In fact, Summit students arrive at Summit schools with slightly lower scores than their peers at local high schools, yet consistently outperform their peers by ranking in the top 20% of public high schools in the state of California.  Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City opened its doors in 2003 and quickly earned a reputation as one of the best public high schools in the nation, according to national rankings by Newsweek and US News & World Report.  Summit’s academic approach has led to an impressive track record of success which speaks for itself: since its founding, 96 percent of Summit’s graduates have been accepted to at least one four-year college. My talk at the school was organized by teacher Lissa Schuman Thiele for her class in Holocaust and Genocide II: Children and Childhood, a 7-week course which she prepared as follow-on to her 2013-2014 course on the Holocaust.  The current course attempts to answer the question “What did ‘childhood’ look like for the youth growing up under genocide?” through understanding the roots of violence, cruelty, race-hatred, and prejudice as manifested in the Holocaust.

Following my talk I received several short notes with the following heartfelt statements:

  • Hearing your story truly gives me hope, because if you could get through such a rough childhood with a smile on your face, than I can too.
  • Your story makes me think and be more thankful for everything.
  • Your story was very inspirational and made me want to be a better person.
  • I was so touched and so thankful that you were rescued in all those situations.

My presentation was attended by several other classes and followed by a Q&A with Ms. Thiele’s class.  Katie Cook of Jewish Family and Children’s Services arranged for my talk.

The audience

The audience

Holocaust & Genocide class

Holocaust & Genocide class

Please send via this website the first names of students marked by ?s or numbers or letters (below) to add to their photos.

| Leave a comment