City Arts and Technology High School, San Francisco, CA – April 6, 2017

by George J Elbaum

City Arts and Technology High School (CAT) is a small (400 students) college preparatory public high school.  It has a highly diverse student body: 60% Hispanic, 20% Black, 5% Filipino, 5% White, and 10% all other – 75% socioeconomically disadvantaged, 10% English learners, and 18% with disabilities; yet its ambitious task is to transform their students’ lives by preparing them for success in college and beyond.  It does so by providing a rigorous academic experience within a strong community, with small classes and all students taking the course sequence required for application to University of California and other four-year colleges, and with an on-site college advisor who works with students all four years to make sure that they get into a four-year college/university.  CAT success in its focus on college preparation results in 95% of its graduates over the last 3 years currently attending college.

In addition to their academic preparation for college, CAT students also participate in a Workplace Learning Experience (WLE) internship during the 11th and 12th grades, working with an adult mentor within a field they are interested in pursuing.  This has included internships with teachers, doctors, business owners, scientists, politicians, filmmakers, real estate agents, and many others. The mentor works with the student on location once per week for 9 weeks to give the student a “taste” of the work in the field. Students complete a major project for the organization where they work. This program gives students the opportunity to apply their learning and get a sense of what they might want to study in college. Students must meet the clearly defined WLE standards as part of CAT’s graduation criteria.

My talk to 10th and 12th grade students was organized by World History teacher Allison McManis and arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of Jewish Family and Children’s Services


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American High School, Fremont, CA – April 5, 2017

by George J Elbaum

This was my 3rd visit to American High School (AHS), which has an enrollment of 2200 students and, in addition to the usual common core academic program, it has a Sophomore Global Studies program run by teachers Wali Noori and John Creger, which includes the Personal Creed Project.  In the Creed, students are asked to reflect on their main influences, their own values, the qualities they wish to develop in themselves to help their own lives, and the difference they want to make in the lives of others or the world.  This not only gives students an opportunity to share their own stories in the classroom but it also includes an extensive curricular exploration of the Holocaust and through it, a focus on others.

As the culmination of the Holocaust unit of instruction, Wali Noori and John Creger organized my presentation as an opportunity for the 100+ students from their classes to hear my personal story.  As an introduction, Jack Weinstein of Facing History & Ourselves (who arranged this talk and had previously guided AHS teachers 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 resulted in a great Q&A session with many thoughtful and penetrating questions from the students.  In attendance were also AHS teachers Anna Misra, Nathaniel Broguiere, Tai Bambusa and some of their students.

Front and center with teachers Wali Noori and John Creger, and Facing History’s Jack Weinstein

the audience




Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – March 28, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with approximately 3000 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 Yvonna Shaw 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.  Some of the students had heard the testimony of a Kindertransport survivor earlier this semester, as part of another curricular journey in social studies.

CVHS has a long-time connection with Facing History and Ourselves through several teachers on staff who have accessed support and materials over many years.  With recent shifts in faculty through retirements and other changes, Yvonne Shaw now represents a new generation of Facing History teachers at the school.  She is introducing the resources to others on the campus, including veteran and newer members of the staff.  One result of my talk is that some teachers may now choose to attend an upcoming seminar with Facing History so that they can broaden and deepen their exploration of the subject next year.

The Q & A session after this presentation, as also at most of my presentations at schools over the past year, included questions not only about my Holocaust childhood but also about the rise of domestic and international tensions sweeping the world’s political landscapes as triggered by the tides of refugees seeking safety from mid-East conflicts.  The students’ questions reflect their and perhaps their parents’ concerns and fears.

My presentation to the school’s 10th grade students was organized by Yvonna Shaw and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History, who gave the introduction to my talk plus an ending about the importance of first-hand witness testimony.  Other teachers attending the presentations were Lena Frazee, Stacy Kania, and Katie Stacy, and Principal Blaine Torpey.

Jack Weinstein’s introduction

my talk

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Tennyson High School, Hayward, CA – March 14, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Tennyson High School is a comprehensive public high school in Hayward, CA, with approximately 1,300 students. The school is extremely diverse and serves many students for whom English is a second language.  In both social studies and English courses, teachers make use of resources from Facing History and Ourselves to teach about the Holocaust as well as other difficult subjects.

This was my second visit to Tennyson (first time was last May), and it was preceded by preparatory sessions by Jack Weinstein, Sr. Program Advisor for Facing History and Ourselves, with the school’s English and World History classes.  Some of the topics students had been exposed to prior to my talk included a strong review of the basic historical narrative of the Holocaust, an introduction to the evolution of Nazi policy, and a chance to ask questions about Jewish life in Europe and about Judaism in general. The students had also visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, so that their study of Elie Wiesel’s Night and their encounter with a survivor of the Holocaust would not be the only exposure to shape their knowledge about Jews and Judaism. 

My talk was organized by World History teacher Jaynee Ruiz (who also took most of the photos) and English teacher Charlie Stephens, and arranged by Facing History’s Jack Weinstein, who gave the introduction.  Jack also participated in the Q & A, which started in a quite restrained mode but blossomed into a more robust series of exchanges that touched on questions of history, philosophy, theology, and more personal questions about politics today and the parallels and distinctions that I see between current and historical events.

Among the more interesting questions posed were “Are you ever angry at the world because of what happened in your life?” and “Did your childhood change your faith in God, or do you still believe in God?”  Some of the heartfelt questions asked by these sophomores made my visit to Tennyson a truly enjoyable experience, and hopefully this was true for the students, also.

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Academy SF, San Francisco, CA – March 10, 2017

by George J Elbaum

This was the third consecutive year that I spoke at Academy SF, the new name chosen for the ex-Academy of Arts and Sciences to better establish its own identity as a school separate from the School of the Arts, with which it shares one campus.  Academy SF is a small public high school with a total enrollment of 350 students (82% minority and 48% economically disadvantaged) and its program focuses on “the three Rs:  RELATIONSHIPS, RELEVANCE and RIGOR,” starting with a belief that strong RELATIONSHIPS are the most fundamental part of a successful school.  If students do not feel supported and cared at school, then their academic and social-emotional success in school is compromised.  Also, if students feel that what they are learning is not RELEVANT to them, 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 enjoy a relevant learning experience, then the school can provide them with a RIGOROUS curriculum and expectations.  In this respect, the school’s behavioral focus is encouraging students to be positive and free-thinking about their future, modeling respect, empathy, and valuing equity.  The Academy’s small school setting allows its 18 full-time 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.

The audience was the school’s entire 10th grade, and the whole event was organized by history teacher Claire Darby and arranged by Jack Weinstein of Facing History and Ourselves.  Also present were English teacher Ellie Williams and paraprofessionals Paula Rojas, and Erin Lochary.


with Claire Darby’s World History class

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Norfolk Agricultural High School, Walpole, MA – February 28, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Norfolk County Agricultural High School is a public high school with enrollment of over 500 students from Norfolk County, Massachusetts, and many out-of-county towns.  The school is situated on 365 acres in Walpole and offers specialty training to students who are interested in Animal and Marine Science, Plant Science, Environmental Science, and related Mechanical Technology.  Students attend vocational and academic classes every day.  Grade 9 students explore all programs during their Freshman year, Grade 10 students can narrow their interests during their Sophomore year, and Grade 11 students choose their major prior to the beginning of their Junior year, completing major requirements until graduation.  About 80% of students attend a 2 or 4-year college, and others go to work in many of the fields they studied during their time at the Aggie.

The school’s academic studies include English Language Arts, Social Studies, Sciences and Mathematics.  As part of Social Studies, teacher Wendy Harlow (who organized my visit) teaches civil rights, Holocaust and Human Behavior, and Genocide in the Modern World.  Her students learn to take their civic responsibility seriously, and last year they started their own support effort for transgender rights, per the link below:  My talk was attended by the entire Freshman class, Seniors in the Facing History elective, plus teachers Wendy Harlow, Brian Kelly, Sam Stupak, Tara McFarland, Mike Ryan, Aaron Chernisky, Stephanie Russo, Amanda Camara, Andrew Davis, Lauren Zysk, Lisa Garrett, Karl Roos, Lauren Zysk, Amber Hall, Katelyn Raftery, Leah Barton, Katie Martin, Dr. Eileen Czyrklis, and librarian Katrina Elich, as well as guidance counselor Joe Huff, assistant principal Sean Crowley, and principal Michael Cournoyer.

My visit was arranged by Judi Bohn, Special Projects Coordinator for Facing History and Ourselves, and for our arrival Wendy Harlow and the English department prepared a “welcome committee” of four students who escorted us to the auditorium and jointly introduced me reading a brief synopsis of my subject and background (see photo below).  It was a very warm welcome, and much appreciated.


with the students, plus flowers and bag of gifts!

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Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, Boston, MA – February 28, 2017

by George J Elbaum

Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School is similar to other inner city schools I’ve visited in having a challenging student body and a dedicated and exceptionally qualified staff.  The high diversity student body (92% Black and Hispanic, 5% White and Asian, 3% all other) of 570 in grades 6-8 includes 89% low income and 40% ELL (English Language Learners).  The staff of 79 includes 53 teachers (10.8 student-teacher ratio) which 60% are rated “highly qualified.”  A good example of this is humanities teacher Tommy Simmons, who organized my visit to the school, and whose qualifications include: BA in Communications and Philosophy from Boston College, Masters in Education from Harvard, 2 years teaching in Mozambique with the Peace Corps, and 7 years with Lilla Frederick where “he is currently a 6th grade humanities teacher and wrestling coach. Mr. Simmons is fluent in English and Portuguese, can speak some Spanish, and is proficient in understanding (but not speaking) sass.”

The stated mission of Lilla Frederick is “to help our students develop to their full potential in a welcoming and nurturing environment that fosters strong achievement and positive connections to the larger community and the world they will lead.”  By asking me to speak to his 6th graders about my Holocaust childhood, Tommy focused on “the larger community and the world they will lead.”  While I focus my talks at those who “are old enough to understand but young enough to have an open mind,” Tommy’s 6th graders definitely qualify for being “young enough,” and time will tell if they are also “old enough” to absorb most of my message and carry it onward in their life.

Attending my presentation were also teachers Tim Maher, Michelle Sathan and Veerentra Veeragoudour, and Assistant Principal Meghan McGoldrick and Director of Operations Allan Arrington.  Judi Bohn, Special Projects Coordinator of Facing History and Ourselves, arranged my visit, and sustained me before and after the talk with wonderful home-baked cookies 🙂.

with teacher Tommy Simmons and his class

with teacher Tommy Simmons and his class


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