American Indian Public Charter School, Oakland, CA – December 12, 2019

by George J Elbaum

American Indian Public Charter School (AIPCS), is a K-8 charter school with predominantly low-income, minority students and current enrollment of 794 that has had an unusual history since its founding in 1996.  Its current incarnation, however, is definitely an admirable success, earning a rating of 9 (out of 10) from Great Schools based on its test scores, equity overview, and year-to-year academic progress.  According to Great Schools, its demographics are 47% Asian, 34% Black, 11% Hispanic, 5% White and 3% all other, with 76% students from low-income families, yet its students score a proficiency rating in math of 73% vs. 40% state average and 65% in English vs. 51% state average, especially impressive since 33% of AIPCS are English learners.  Furthermore, its advanced STEM courses participation in Algebra I is an impressive 60% vs. 25% state average and pass rate is 80% vs. 79% state average.  Also unusual are the statistics of its teaching staff: with 19 students/teacher (vs. 22 state average), its teachers with 3 years of more experience are only 46% of total vs. 91% state average, and full-time certified teachers are 76% of total vs. 98% state average.  This means that AIPCS has a much higher percentage of young teachers, and in my 250 talks to date I’ve noticed repeatedly how responsive are students to young teachers.   (An example of this are students enthusiastically greeting these teachers in the halls, and when I ask the teachers if these are their current students I learn that they were in the teacher’s class a year or two ago!)

My presentation was to the AIMS College Prep Middle School (6-8), specifically to 6 classes totaling 180 7th grade students in English and History, and was organized by teacher Jennifer Ko, who impressed me with her handling of this large, youthful group with an amazingly friendly yet authoritative manner.  The students were reading The Diary of Anne Frank and learning the basics of the Holocaust and the role of propaganda and policy.  They’ve watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and read excerpts of child experiences from the Holocaust and many have families who fled from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

In addition to Ms. Ko, also attending the presentation were the teachers of the other 7th grade classes; Ms. Yuan, Ms. Solis, Ms. Vasquez, Mr. Worley, and Ms. Rodriguez, along with the Dean of Students, Mrs. Glass, and the Head of School, Mr. Williams.

Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of JFCS Holocaust Center, arranged the presentation and attended it.  Also attending were Larry and Lisa of JFCS Next Generation Speakers Bureau.

starting the talk

| Leave a comment

Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – December 10, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with 2800+ students of high diversity.  In the 10th grade, students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Katie Stacy takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman as well as a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. Many students in that grade level have also read The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night.

This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history.   Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivors, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history.  The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from their study of history and literature, but also personal and rooted in the family lore of all who survived.

The Q & A session is always my favorite part of any presentation because it often focuses not only on facts but also on personal feelings, and today’s session was no exception.  What makes Q & A especially memorable for me are questions which have never been asked of me in the 250 talks I’ve given to date (such as today’s “How do you want our generation to pass on your story and your words?”), which required me to pause and dig deeply into my feelings to answer.

This was my 4th visit to CVHS and my presentation was once again organized by teacher Katie Stacy, who unintentionally gave me a most touching memory as I was about to leave CVHS.  She said that she had bought 3 copies of my book, Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows, and asked me to autograph the books for her 2 sons and her niece, adding that she would give these to them when they’re old enough to benefit from my story.  A bit surprised by her comment, I asked how old are they, and her reply amazed me and made me feel truly honored: “Dylan is 3 years old, Athena is 17 months, and Carson is 7 months old.“  Thank you for your trust, Katie!

In addition to Katie Stacy, I met again and remembered from my previous visits librarian Dana Adams and school guard Eric, with whom we chatted about our years motorcycle riding.  Also attending my talk was Jared Kushida of Facing History and Ourselves.


| Leave a comment

Jewish Family and Children’s Services “The Next Chapter”, San Francisco, CA – December 8, 2019

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.

Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and educational programs on the Holocaust for visiting teachers, adults, and student groups.  My presentation today was to several dozen students from different high schools and their parents, participating in this year’s Next Chapter program, as I also did last year.  The Next Chapter is an introduction to the history of the Holocaust for 9th through 12th graders.  In The Next Chapter, teens develop profound connections with Holocaust survivors.  By participating in the Next Chapter, students learn about the Holocaust through survivor testimony and hearing from several different speakers over the course of the program. By learning to recognize the value in others’ stories and experiences, students learn to appreciate their own story and identity, as well as gain moral courage and a sense of social responsibility.

My talk was arranged by Penny Savryn, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, who also introduced me to the audience.  The Sunday afternoon event was managed by Yedida Kanfer, Manager of Library, Archives.

introduction by Penny Savryn

the audience

| Leave a comment

Hillview Junior High School, Pittsburg, CA – November 22, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Hillview Junior High School is a public school with current attendance of 978 students in grades 6-8.  Its student body has very high diversity: 58% Hispanic, 22% Black, 10% Asian, 6% White, and 4% other, of which 71% are considered from low-income families and 22% are English learners.  This makes teaching there not only a profession but also a calling, because Hillview teachers face not only difficulties in attaining academic standards but also student attendance and even discipline without squelching young enthusiasm.  It is therefore the Hillview teachers’ dedication to this calling that results in feedback from parents such as: “I have had nothing but the best support at this school. I had to ask for it, but the response was quick, effective and strong” and “The teachers have been supportive, caring, kind and challenging for my student.”

Hillview has an excellent, attractive and well-maintained website, with each of its teachers having an informative page therein.  My presentation to approximately 340 8th graders was organized by English teacher Carina Pineda, alongside Misha Holz and Kara Fitzgerald.  Pineda’s webpage includes the following thoughtful, caring, and powerful instructions to her students:

As 8th graders you all are only one year away from graduating middle school and continuing your education in high school. So excited to get to know, learn, and grow with you all this year!

This year in English we will go over multiple themes and through these we will be answering these questions: “What attracts us to stories of suspense?”, “What does our response to conflict say about us?”, “How did the war between the States redefine America?” and “How can life experience shape our values?”

Students, I will accept nothing but your best in this class. I expect you to ask questions. I expect you to be honest with me. I expect that you will respect your peers and I expect that you will respect me. I will be honest with you. I will always make time to answer your questions. I will respect you. If you are achieving less than a C in my class, I will expect you to come talk to me outside of class for extra help.”

It is as part of the question “What does our response to conflict say about us?” that teacher Pineda includes the Holocaust, reading Maus and Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, viewing the movie Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, and my presentation.  Her excellent preparation of her students showed during the Q & A, with some forthright and unabashed questions, quite mature for 8th graders.

Supporting her in yesterday’s event were staff members Misha Holz, Kara Fitzgerald, Darren Gapultos, Pedro Mayorga, Branden Hays, Aaron Thompson and Diane Klaczynski.  Also present were Heidi Leber, Nelson Moreno, Stacey Inouye, William Davis, Kristen Juarez, Anastasia Gellepes, Rita D’Angelica, Marianne Nies, and Miranda Viechec-Lingbaoan.

Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center

| Leave a comment

San Mateo High School, San Mateo, CA – November 20, 2019

by George J Elbaum

San Mateo High School (SMHS) is a National Blue Ribbon[3] comprehensive 4-year high school with a beautiful campus which opened in 1927 (see photo below).  Its attendance is 1670 students of high diversity: 44% Hispanic, 27% Asian, 19% White, and 10% other, and 28% are considered as low-income.  The school has a high academic record, with its students’ SAT college readiness rating of 76% vs. 48% state average, and 61% of its students meeting UC/CSU entrance requirements vs. 50% state average.  As a result, SMHS was ranked the 50th best high school in California by Niche, the 216th best public high school in the country by Newsweek[10]  in 2015,  and in 2013 the 376th nationally by The Washington Post‘s ranking of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools.”[  Less recent but no less admirable, the school earned a Guinness World Record in 2005 for collecting 372,000 pounds of food from the local community for its annual canned food drive.[5] The collected food was donated to America’s Second Harvest and Samaritan House, which provides it to needy families throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties during the holiday season.

My presentation to approximately 100 9th graders who are now reading Eli Weisel’s Night was organized by history teachers Stephanie Wozniak and Aura Smithers, with support of Alicia Gorgani and attended by Cindy Braganza.  Afterwards, a brief conversation with a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and especially the tears in her eyes, will remain indelible in my memory.  I was also very pleasantly surprised when given a wonderfully-personal (airplane, sugar cubes, baseball story) “thank you” card drawn and signed by 8 students who attended my talk last March when they attended Bowditch Middle School in Foster City, CA.  Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, JFCS Holocaust Center.

starting the talk

ending the talk

| Leave a comment

Francisco Middle School, San Francisco, CA – November 12, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Francisco Middle School was established in 1924, and during its more than 90 years of history has served many illustrious students, such as baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and 9/11 hero Betty Ann Ong.  Now its very high-diversity student body, numbering over 600 youth in grades 6, 7 and 8, mostly live in San Francisco’s North Beach, Chinatown, and Tenderloin neighborhoods.  Since these neighborhoods still include large populations of first- and second-generation immigrants, around 80% of its students speak a language other than English at home, 90% are classified as minority and also as somewhat economically disadvantaged.  Francisco’s focus therefore must be on facilitating its students’ enduring success in high school and beyond by providing them with a good command of academic English.  Furthermore, many students and their families originally come from nations such as Vietnam, Yemen, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where war or violence have been or still are a tragic part of their recent experience and modern history.  Effective teaching of such students must be, in my opinion, more challenging, but also more gratifying than teaching “typical” American students, and it therefore calls for teachers with a special dedication or calling to their profession.  At the same time, Francisco students who have experienced war or violence in their home country can perhaps relate easier to my childhood.

This was my second visit to Francisco, and my presentation was part of an 8th grade class in English/Ethnic Studies.  Its teacher, Marna Blanchard, organized my presentation and described her class as follows: “The Holocaust is taught as part of a unit on Genocide and Oppression Across Time and Continents.  The students have all had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust.  Some students are now involved in an in depth research project into the Holocaust, while others are involved in similar research on another genocide or oppression.  Students through their research cover the following: background of the country before genocide began; how the genocide began; what was it like during the genocide; was there any resistance; were there any reparations or reconciliation; and how are things now.  Students will also be answering the Essential Question: how can we learn from history to be agents of change in our global community?  Students have heard the testimonies of Jewish partisans, seen the film The Book Thief and read a number of picture books.  Some are now reading Boy in Striped Pajamas or Anne Frank or Children of Willesden Lane if they are focused on the Holocaust.  Others are reading My Father the Maker of Trees or The Long Walk to Water or Red Pencil or Poppies in Iraq, and many more.”  Cover pages of previous research projects are shown in a display case outside the classroom where I spoke (see photo below).

Supporting Marna Blanchard in organizing this event were also Laura Lin and Tristian Eloise.  My participation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center

Students’ Letters

Several weeks after my talk at Francisco Middle School I received a large envelope with four dozen Thank You notes from FMS students that were very gratifying as they displayed the students’ empathy and ability to relate my experience to their own lives.  As usual, my wife Mimi and I read all notes, with my wife Mimi reading each one aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally.  Considering these notes were from middle school students, we were impressed by the maturity and sensitivity shown in the them, per the excerpts below.

  • It must have been really hard to speak about something from which you were hiding for the past 60 years. Now your story about your Holocaust childhood has inspired many and taught many.  Thank you.
  • Your presentation about your life has helped me understand reality when it comes to war. I now know how it feels to feel absolute tragic.
  • Your journey during the Holocaust has inspired me to move on from my family’s troubles.
  • I could never imagine how it would have felt to live in a world where you and your loved ones are being hunted down.
  • I wonder if you feel any resentment towards the Nazis after all they’ve done to you and your family.
  • I was really inspired by you, and one thing that I would like to do is to help the world and invent something to help global warming.
  • One thing that caught my attention the most was how clever your mother was. It reminded me of my mom, since she is clever for only a few years of schooling.
  • Something that I had taken from your presentation is that I should be more open to other people of different races and try to make their time at FMS more valuable.
  • I loved your presentation because I could tell that this was all a vivid memory for you, and you used extremely descriptive words, allowing me to picture your story. Thank you for coming.
  • What particularly inspired me was your mom. The wit, intelligence & bravery she had is enough to move even the most unfeeling of people.
  • Your mother was a very intelligent and brave woman, she inspired me to do better in life and in more of a positive way. Thank you so much for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • I want to share your story and motivate people to come together as a community and share their perspectives.
  • I learned the importance of having strength in the midst of danger.
  • You inspired me to appreciate my life and be thankful for what I have

photo op at end of talk

the audience

| Leave a comment

Oceana High School, Pacifica, CA – November 8, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Oceana High School is a small public high school in northern Pacifica, CA, with a high diversity student body of 622 students, of which 79% are minority and 34% are economically disadvantaged.  Nevertheless, it has a 4-year graduating rate of 94% and academic scores significantly above state averages: English proficiency 70% vs. CA average 50%, Math proficiency 48% vs. CA 39%, and UC/CSU entrance requirements 75% vs. CA 50%.  It has accomplished this by having special teaching programs, exhibition projects in each grade, and a community service requirement for all students.

This was my third visit to Oceana since 2015, and it was again organized by Humanities teacher Coreen Hartig with support from Leigh Poehler, Roisin Madden, and David Roberts.  The audience was approximately 150 10th grade students who have been learning social history and concepts, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Universe of Obligation, the stages of genocide, the Armenian Genocide, Eugenics, and the Nazis’ rise to power. Their year-long study is based on Facing History and Ourselves’ focus on oppression and resistance: causes and consequences.  Also attending the presentation many staff members including Principal April Holland, Wellness Counselor Nico Storrow, Gregory Lukens, Paul Orth, and many others.

In addition to thanking teacher Coreen Hartig for organizing the presentation, I definitely want to thank Marlon, who I believe is a long-time member of Oceana’s maintenance staff.  When I turned off from Paloma Avenue much too early and came upon a dead end, he happened to be working there and “steered me right.”  Then, when after my talk I wandered around school grounds taking photos of student art (see below) and wound up on the opposite side of the school from where I parked my car, Marlon appeared out of nowhere and once again “steered me right”. 😊  So, thank you, Marlon!

On my previous visits to Oceana I was quite impressed with the colorful student art on its concrete walls, and now I did recognize some paintings which I photographed and included in my previous visit web post.  This time, however, there were many more paintings, especially big, colorful, new ones, and when leaving the school after my talk I kept taking photos and more photos and more photos, to show to my wife Mimi who is a professional artist, and to post some (7 of these) below.

students and wall art




| Leave a comment