Foothill High School, Pleasanton, CA – April 21, 2016 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

Foothill High School opened in 1973 and its current student body of approximately 2,300 reflects the demographic and economic diversity of their newly affluent and upwardly mobile community.  Foothill’s rich tradition of both care and accountability is a factor in helping each student reach his or her full potential.  Recognized as a California Distinguished School and a National Blue Ribbon California nominee, Foothill remains dedicated to school improvement.  Scholastically, students excel, scoring above national, state and district averages on standardized tests, high school exit exams and the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Advanced Placement tests.

In an attempt to meet the needs of its diverse student body, the school provides, in addition to standards-based curriculum, numerous academic and service groups such as the Multicultural Club and a rigorous sports selection reflected in the excellence of the athletic programs. At the same time, character education is an integral part of the school’s core mission, emphasizing integrity, honesty, responsibility, respect, compassion and self-discipline.  The mission of Foothill is to nurture and stimulate the intellectual, emotional and physical growth of each student, so that the expected learning emphasizes four growth areas for all students: becoming independent, life-long learners; utilizing essentials skills in current and future situations; strengthening personal character; and practicing active citizenship and concern for others.  One outcome is that Foothill has an award-winning Model United Nations team which has earned over 70 individual and 5 delegation awards, and has been distinguished as one of the best delegations in the entire East Bay.  Participants debate global politics, simulate diplomacy, and travel around the nation at Model UN conferences.

Its focus on good citizenship also involves Foothill’s involvement with Facing History and Ourselves.  Its English teachers use Facing History in teaching Eli Wiesel’s Night and the language of “upstanders and bystanders” to help the students’ understanding of these concepts.  Students also learn about the Holocaust in their World History classes, and an audience of approximately 250 ranging from 10th to 12th grade attended my presentation.  It was organized by English teacher Nadia Moshtagh and arranged by Language Arts Instructional Coach John Ribovich and Jack Weinstein of Facing History.  In attendance were also English teachers Michelle Garlit and Heather Fleming, Social Studies teacher Michelle Jurich and Librarian Patti Stein.  Photography was in the capable hands of Instructional Tech Coach Scott Padway took many of the photos including the 360 degrees panorama per this link: Spherical Image | RICOH THETA

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Amador Valley High School, Pleasanton, CA – April 21, 2016 (AM)

by George J Elbaum

Amador Valley High School (AVHS) has set a challenging question for its 2640 students to explore: “How will you A.I.D. your world?” wherein A stands for Academic Achievement, I for Innovative Thinking, and D for Demonstration of Civic Responsibility.  The school success in academic achievement is shown by being deemed a three-time California Distinguished School, a National School of Character, and a two-time National Blue Ribbon School.  The Daily Beast/Newsweek ranked Amador Valley High School 238th in its 2012 list of the 1,000 Best High Schools in America.  This success in academics is paralleled in AVHS’s extracurricular activities such as music, theater, and athletics, as well as the development of civic awareness and responsibility in its students.  In national competitions such as We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution, the Amador Valley team has ranked in the top four places 10 times in recent years, including 2006-2009, 2011, 2013 and 2014.  Eight of Amador Valley’s teachers—Mark Aubel, Debbie Emerson, Jon Grantham, Tom Hall, Debbie Harvey, Brian Ladd, Marla Silversmith, and Eric Thiel—have been recognized as a Pleasanton Unified School District teacher of the year.

In developing the students’ civic responsibility, an integral part of the school’s Sophomore English course includes a strong multi-week exploration of the Holocaust, its historical context and its literature, including Elie Wiesel’s Night.  To augment the Holocaust study, Teacher/Librarian Erik Scherer, Language Arts Instructional Coach John Ribovich and Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves organized my visit to AVHS.  Instructional Tech Coach Scott Padway took many of the photos.  The students were very well prepared, and this resulted after my talk in a long and very gratifying Q&A, a personal exchange with the students which is my favorite part of any presentation.

Because of the unusually strict rules by AVHS, only the 2 photos with 4 students (below) were allowed without special permission.  Missing are 2 photos of the whole audience taken face-on and 19 out of 21 photos of 45 enthusiastic students who joined me for individual or small group photos, expecting to see their photos on my website.   I very much hope that the special permission will be given to add the other 41 students’ photos to those below.

introduction by Jack Weinstein

introduction by Jack Weinstein

starting my talk

starting my talk

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Notre Dame High School, San Jose, CA – April 20, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Notre Dame High School is an all-girls, Catholic, college preparatory school with an enrollment of 630 students.  Since its founding in 1851, it has been the premier educator of young women of Silicon Valley based on its motto: “Teach them what they need to know for life.”  As such, its focus is on high quality academics, leadership, global citizenship and socially-responsible entrepreneurship.  The student body reflects Silicon Valley’s ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, so that half of the 2016 class comes from homes in which a language other than English is spoken and one quarter of the student body receives financial assistance.

Notre Dame students complete a range of community service activities in their four years, as this teaches them to be “socially responsible and answer the call to be a person of justice” and to try making a difference in the San Jose community.  By their senior year, students design and execute their own Senior Service Learning Project.

Notre Dame’s focus on global citizenship and individual responsibility has been supported by its involvement with Facing History and Ourselves for more than 10 years, starting with a pilot program integrating sophomore history with English.  Facing History units on human rights, genocide studies, racism, art as social protest, and oral history eventually became part of every humanities and science class offered.  There is a FH Student Leadership Group that works within the school and alongside other schools’ parallel groups to effect social change and model participatory citizenship.  Notre Dame students have met and learned from many Facing History resource speakers, including scholars, authors, witnesses to history, survivors of genocides, and upstanders who have made a difference in their communities.

All humanities teachers (English, Social Studies, and Religious Studies) have participated in seminars, workshops, and trainings provided to the school by Facing History–and all staff members have exposure to key themes in annual workshops as well, because Notre Dame is among the 75 schools across the country who are in a partnership through Facing History’s Innovative Schools Network (ISN).

My talk at Notre Dame was organized by teacher Rita Cortez, who participated in the educators’ workshop organized by Jack Weinstein of Facing History where I spoke on January 20, 2016 in Palo Alto, and she and Jack invited me to speak at Notre Dame to approximately 160 10th grade World History students.  Other Notre Dame humanities teachers in attendance were Mark McDougall, Kate Motroni-Fish, Hilary Orr, Patrice Hoffman, Bayard Nielsen and Cathy Sharer.

post-talk photo op

post-talk photo op

starting my talk

starting my talk

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Newark Memorial High School, Newark, CA – April 14, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Newark Memorial High School (NMHS) has an enrollment of approximately 2000 student and high diversity: 35% Hispanic, 31% non-Hispanic white, 13% Asian, 11% Filipino, 8% African-American and 2% others.  Average class sizes range from 25 to 29 students.

In developing its students’ social responsibility, the Social Studies Department chaired by Laura Knoop has for several years been teaching a multi-week unit on the Holocaust which exposes the students to books such Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank, and also to presentations by Holocaust survivors.  Since Laura Knoop attended the educators’ workshop organized by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves where I spoke on January 20, 2016 in Palo Alto, she and Jack invited me to speak at NMHS and organized the event for approximately 200 10th grade World History students.  My presentation was followed by an active Q&A session which included some probing questions asked of me for the very first time – I truly value that!

In conducting this event Laura Knoop was aided by teachers Sara Canales and Alex Seitz, and by Dean of Students Elie Wasser.

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American High School, Fremont, CA – April 13, 2016

by George J Elbaum

American High School, with enrollment of 2000 students, teaches a World History course for sophomores which includes an extensive curricular exploration of the Holocaust.  As the culmination of that unit of instruction, teacher Wali Noori organized an opportunity for over 200 students from his own and other teachers’ classes to hear my story.  In introducing me to the students, Jack Weinstein of Facing History & Ourselves (who arranged this talk and advised Mr. Noori and his colleagues about the content of this instruction unit) spoke to the students about the importance of learning about the Holocaust directly from the few remaining survivors, and for the students to pass it onward someday when no survivors remain.  My talk, supported by Mr. Noori and his colleagues, John Creger, Audrey Suratos, and Chris Fulton, augmented the exploration of the Holocaust and resulted in an active Q&A session which was extended by Mr. Noori collecting additional questions on cards which had been previously passed out to the students.

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Post-talk laughter with teachers Wali Noori and John Creger

Pre-talk the audience gathers

Pre-talk, the audience gathers

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA – April 7, 2016

by George J Elbaum

MIT is my Alma Mater, and I was invited by its Office of the Chancellor and MIT Hillel to give my talk there on April 7, 2016.  The audience of 50-60 was composed of students, faculty, and others attracted by MIT Hillel’s posted announcements (see below), electronic billboard ads and emails.  The resulting audience included MIT’s Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, Assistant Dean of Science Elizabeth Chadis, Physics Department’s Prof. Krishna Rajagopal and Director of Development Erin McGrath, MIT Hillel’s Executive Director Rabbi Michelle Fisher (who “roped me” in 2010 into giving my very first talk on Holocaust Memorial Day at the event she organized), and Hillel’s Director of Development Marla Choslovsky.

The whole event (with food, to boot!) was organized in a very short time by Leah Slaten, President of MIT Hillel’s Undergraduate Board, with support from Hillel’s Ben Flax who got the projector to work (whew!) –  thank you, Leah and Ben.

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with some of the audience

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Boston Latin School, Boston, MA – April 6, 2016

by George J Elbaum

Boston Latin School (BLS) is a public “magnet”/”exam” school founded in 1635, making it the oldest school in the United States.  It serves an economically and culturally diverse population of 2350 students in grades 7 to 12.  BLS seeks to ground its students in a contemporary classical education as preparation for successful college studies, and the result is a very impressive 99% college acceptances of its graduating students.  BLS accomplishes this with the aid of Small Learning Communities for grades 7 and 8 to ease the transition into its demanding academic environment, which includes a challenging honors curriculum with 24 Advanced Placement courses in addition to the regular course offerings.  In addition to its outstanding academics, BLS also offers extensive extracurricular, athletic, community service and artistic opportunities such as its outstanding choral and instrumental music wherein its students are selected to play with the Boston Pops.  BLS was named a 2011 “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence”, which is the U.S. Department of Education’s highest award, and its reputation in Boston is best described by the city’s premier newspaper as follows: “Latin – the nation’s oldest public school – is a place of vaulting aspirations, an exam school that occupies a singular spot in the city’s civic pantheon.”

My presentation was to the 8th grade English class of teacher Molly McDonald-Long, whose pride in BLS plus enthusiasm for her students were evident and infectious.  She organized this event and was supported by History teacher Joe Gul and Cate “the Great” Arnold, U.S. History teacher and adviser to BLS’s YOUTHCAN.  Facing History and Ourselves’ Judi Bohn arranged my talk, as she has most of my talks in the Boston area.

Students’ Notes

After my talk at BLS I gave another one the next day at MIT, then returned to San Francisco and gave 5 talks during the next 2 weeks, so only yesterday did I finally read the many “thank you” notes from BLS students, some containing lovely graphics drawn by the students.  My “thank you” for these notes to all of you, and below are excerpts from these that particularly resonated with me.

  • Thank you very much for your kindness and generosity as you told us about your tough experiences. I loved your story.
  • Keep Going Strong!!!
  • Your story really inspires me and makes me feel grateful for the things I have and the life I live.
  • It really opened my eyes, and I hope that now I will be able to do the right thing and help others in my life.
  • I really can’t explain how much your speech has opened my eyes to what it really was like through a first-person lens.
  • Your childhood was taken from you, so I hope you now HAVE FUN. Travel the world, not because you have to run and hide, but for enjoyment.
  • Thank you for teaching me not to be discouraged and to follow my dreams.
  • You have really inspired me to work harder in school and be kinder to people. Thank you again.
  • My grandparents were Holocaust survivors too.
  • I hope that many more people can hear your story.
  • PS: Thanks for getting me out of History & Math.
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with the audience

starting the talk

starting the talk

 

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