Beacon Academy, Boston, MA – February 27, 2020 PM

by George J Elbaum

Beacon Academy (Beacon) is a 14-month school between 8th and 9th grades designed to close the achievement gap for a cadre of Boston’s bright and determined students and prepare them for high school.  It was founded in 2005 to address under-education in Boston by creating a “jump year” between 8th and 9th grades for a small group of bright, motivated Boston area 8th graders eager to escape the downward spiral of education failures, economic dependence, and social challenges that low-income students face.  It’s founding vision was to give these students the academic, social, and emotional tools they would need to earn scholarships at competitive independent high schools around New England and achieve success in high school, college, and into their first careers.  With its slogan, “Opportunity Earned”, Beacon is the only school of its kind in the country.

How well has Beacon performed this mission in the 15 years since its founding is shown in the following impressive statistics:

  • $62 Million in Scholarships: Its 269 graduates have earned over $62 million in scholarship funding from independent high schools and colleges. ($4 million scholarship funding earned collectively by class of 2019.)
  • 99% Graduation Rate: 99% of the students in Beacon’s first ten classes have graduated from high school.  (2-4 years gained in academic proficiency and 21 percental points average SAT score increase.)
  • 80% are School Leaders: More than 80% of its graduates hold leadership positions in high school in athletics, student government, clubs, and more. Several have been class presidents. Many win academic and/or leadership awards.
  • 75% College Matriculation: Of its 138 graduates of college age or older, 75% are currently enrolled in or have graduated from college, 10% plan to return to complete their degree thanks to the work of our College Completion Project, and the 15% who do not plan to receive a 4-year degree are working full-time or pursuing alternate paths such as military careers.
  • 95% Stay Connected: Almost all of Beacon’s students stay connected to Beacon and to each other through participation at alumni events or direct contact with Beacon staff and peers.

My talk to the current class of 20 students was organized by Dreme Flynt, Facing History & Ourselves Teacher and Beacon’s Recruitment & Co-Curricular Manager, and supported by Marsha Feinberg, Beacon’s Co-Founder and also a member of Facing History’s New England Advisory Board.  Arrangements for this talk were made by Facing History’s Judi Bohn and Jeff Smith, who have been arranging my talks in the Boston area for many years.

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Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School, South Easton, MA – February 27, 2020 AM

by George J Elbaum

Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School  (Southeastern) is a public high school with a high diversity enrollment of 1,416 students in grades 9-12 offering a diverse range of educational, vocational and technical programs.  The school’s multi-pronged education takes a hands-on approach to learning, integrating academic course work with vocational and technical education.  This approach  has  proven to be successful in educating today’s youth for tomorrow’s challenges in an environment that teaches through example.

Southeastern’s offerings are divided into Academic and Vocational/Technical Programs.  The academic program offers a full and rigorous series of academic classes which are kept small to foster critical thinking and exposure to honors-level content.  Academics in a 21st century vocational school are developed to ensure that students have equal opportunities for college and career success. Such offerings include AP courses, honors level courses, dual enrollment courses and virtual high school courses.

The vocational/technical program offers a choice of 22 specialized vocational courses to prepare its students in a wide variety of professions, ranging from Advanced Manufacturing & Welding to Video & Performing Arts; from Automotive Technology to Dental and Medical and Nurse Assisting; from Computer & Electronic Engineering to Natural & Life Sciences; and from Cosmetology and Culinary Arts to Marketing & Entrepreneurship – a truly wide choice for students.

My talk was to 12th graders taking a year-long class of Facing History – Holocaust and Human Behavior taught by Social Studies teacher Amy McLaughlin-Hatch, who expertly organized my presentation (including pre-talk details and post-talk photos).  The students have been learning about the Holocaust since September and therefore have quite of bit of background based on Facing History pedagogy plus material from Echoes & Reflections, Yad Vashem, USHMM and many other resources.  While Amy’s credentials in Holocaust education are quite impressive (Recipient of Facing History MSS and TOLI Grants, Yad Vashem Int’l and Upstander Academy Educator, Jan Karski Institute and USHMM Scholar, etc ), I was most impressed by her firm yet gentle manner with her students.

Arrangements for my talk were made by Judi Bohn and Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves, whose presence and pre-and-post-talk conversation always add much to my gratification.

Distance Learning

Within three weeks after my talk at Southeastern the spreading coronavirus has caused Massachusetts schools to close, and along with other schools Southeastern transferred its teaching from classrooms to online.  As an example of this, teacher Amy McLaughlin-Hatch sent me her March 26, 2020 assignment for her students, which she based on my talk at the school.  Starting with the link to my web post about the school, she instructed the students to “read about Southeastern, check out the photos and the excerpts from your thank you letters.”  Then she laid out a very imaginative assignment that would bring out the students’ creativity.  I was so impressed by this assignment that I asked and received her permission to add it to my web post, below.

“Your Assignment – 

  • Write a response to one of your classmates’ excerpts.
  • Write a thank you note to one of your classmates for their insights.
  • Write a thank you note to George, especially if you did not write a first one.
  • Write a thank you note to one of your teachers.
  • Write a thank you to one of your family members. 
  • Write a note to George about what is happening to you now and connections to his story. 

Your writing must be a minimum of 300 words, but feel free to write as much as you want.“

Student Letters

A couple weeks after my visit to Southeastern I received a large envelope with 56 letters from the students.  As usual, my wife Mimi and I read all of them, with my Mimi reading each one aloud while I listened and absorbed, and we would excerpt those phrases or sentences that resonated with us.  From reading these it was obvious that teacher Amy McLaughlin-Hatch organized an excellent in-depth discussion with her students about my presentation, because the letters were thoughtful and personal and empathetic, and the students were obviously engaged – signs of students responding to an excellent teacher!  Our excerpts are below.

  • Even at such a young age you were so brave when you spoke about repressing sad memories. It made me think about how optimistic you are, how you only focus on the good.  You inspire me!
  • I know you have spoken tons of times to share your story, but I could hear the sadness in your voice, and once again thought back to what you really went through, and I want to say I’m sorry.
  • Even with such a traumatic experience at such a young age, you flourished and made the best out of your life, and that makes me happy.
  • The world can be cruel and people can be thoughtless, but there are people out there who are willing to do anything just to make the world a better place.
  • I really enjoyed your presentation and how you made your experiences come to life.
  • The photos that corresponded with your story were just as heart wrenching as the story itself.
  • I thank you for answering my questions and how you answered them. I learned so much from you.  You are a true role model.
  • The part that put things in perspective is when you said don’t ever let someone ruin your dream. If you want something in life you have to work hard for it.  I will always keep that statement in my life because everything in life doesn’t come for free and you have to work for what you want.
  • Being able to see you and hear your story affected me on a whole different level. Because I was able to see you, being tangible, I felt as if I was there with you when the Germans invaded.
  • I thank you for what you do. I hope you continue to touch the hearts of everyone you speak to and help them experience life from your shoes through your powerful story.
  • Going through and making your dreams come true is inspiring.
  • You taught a great lesson to not give up and to follow your dreams no matter the time or what others say.
  • Your question was would you take in a child or someone that was Jewish during the Holocaust. For a second I thought: would someone do it for me?  To be honest, who knows!
  • I wish things went differently with your family members, wish they could see how much of a success story you became.
  • Even through you are from a completely different era, I was still able to connect with you and them as if you are our age.
  • It felt like I was able to take a journey in your shoes.
  • It doesn’t matter what skin color I or people are, or what religion everyone is, at the end of the day we all pee and bleed the same.
  • I would risk my life to save a Jew, because if it ever came down to it, I would want someone to do the same for me.
  • Empathy is something everyone should practice – that was my favorite take away from everything you said.
  • I have had moments where I just felt like giving up and that there is no life at the end of the tunnel, but you were in a horrific situation but you stayed strong, and in the end you survived. So thank you for that.
  • Your story makes me think about how lucky I am that I have everything I have now.
  • You spoke very little about your father. I’m so sorry that you didn’t have the chance to get to know him and have him teach you the things a dad would.
  • I’ve always wanted to go hang gliding, but after what happened to you I’m terrified to go now because I’m extremely clumsy.
  • I’m so happy with what you do. Speaking out from school to school, people to people, sharing your personal moments.  That’s a big deal.  You change people’s lives, your story opens their eyes.
  • We owe a lot to the people of the past.
  • You touch people’s hearts and change people’s mindsets and ways of thinking.
  • Your book was very emotional to me, but extremely motivational because it helps me not to take things for granted. I’ll gladly say that you’ve inspired me to do all it takes to be the best man I can be.
  • Thank you for opening my eyes about myself and how you can save a life.
  • People tell me to never let what people say put me down, and it never really meant anything to me. But when you said it, it had weight to it.  Thank you.
  • You are one of the few people who faced a horrible thing and turned it into a dream, such as seeing the Nazi plane. You wanted to be free and fly and you made it happen.
  • My great-grandmother served in the war as a nurse. I remember hearing stories about the way that soldiers and civilians were treated and vowing to myself to never treat another human the way they were treated.  It is something I have lived by.
  • I encourage you to keep sharing our stories to other people. This helps the world to think about their life choices and how to not repeat history.
  • I loved how personal and one to one you wanted to get with all the students, how you kind of instantly became everyone’s friend.
  • P.S. If you ever go hang gliding again don’t hit the mountain, and remember that there are 3 strikes in baseball 🙂

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Fletcher Middle School, Palo Alto, CA – February 20, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Fletcher Middle School has a diverse enrollment of 715 students in grades 6-8 and has earned high rankings by NICHE:  A+ Overall and in Academics, and 6th place among 2,575 Best Public Middle Schools in California, with student proficiency of 84% in reading and 79% in math.  The school is named after Ellen Fletcher, who was an inspirational civic leader in Palo Alto, but also a survivor of the Kindertransport, who at age 10 in 1939 was sent for her safety by her parents from Nazi Germany to a foster home in England.  This truly resonated with me, as I was sent at age 8 in 1947 for my safety by my mother from Poland to Palestine (though an accident in France sent me back to Poland).

My talk to 225 7th graders was organized by English teacher Nerissa Wong-VanHaren.  The students were well prepared, having read Diary of Anne Frank and studied propaganda, scapegoating, Nazi concentration camps, and current day antisemitism.  The students even prepared a stack of questions on 3×5 cards, but unfortunately my talk was delayed by 15+ minutes until the students settled in the auditorium, so even with shortening my talk there was enough time for only one question.  This was disappointing, as the Q&A is most important because it allows the students to express what they did or didn’t understand and what interests them.  However, several students managed to approach me afterwards with questions (including Rap asking about my most embarrassing baseball story), hand shakes and thank you’s, so I felt that my message was heard.

Arrangements for my talk were by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of JFCS Holocaust Center.

 

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Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – February 11, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 124 students, primarily in grades 11-12, and its continuation program is designed to provide the opportunity for students to earn academic credits and meet the requirements for a high school diploma.  In a broader sense, Thornton’s mission is to build an educational community which would reintegrate at-promise students into educational, social and community activities and to develop feelings of self-worth, tolerance and community awareness, thus becoming productive and responsible citizens.  To foster community involvement, for example, students must complete at least 75 hours of community service and earn elective credits.  Students are referred to Thornton for a variety of reasons; each has his or her own story on what obstacle(s) got in the way of staying on credit track to graduate on time. With collaboration between the students themselves, families, staff, and community, the majority thrive at Thornton and earn enough credits to graduate on time. Several even end up graduating early, helped by smaller class sizes, increased teacher-student-family contact, individualized instruction, and the ability to earn credit in a variety of ways.

This was my second visit to Thornton, and it was arranged and organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12thgrade students.  As last year, she preceded my talk by leading the students in reciting the Daily Affirmation, and afterwards presented me with the school’s Citizen of the Year award (see photos below).  Also present were Sandy McGurty, Special Education Paraprofessional, and math teacher Annika Kah.

most of the group

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NextRoll, San Francisco, CA – February 10, 2020

by George J Elbaum

A few days before my January 27 talk commemorating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day (see previous post), I received an unusual email.  The writer, Robert Goren, heard about the planned speaking engagement, checked my website and read some excerpts of my story and Q&A. He wanted to attend but could not due to business travel, so he emailed me introducing himself.  Being an executive at a San Francisco-based marketing technology company who had visited Auschwitz and was deeply moved by the experience, he wrote that my presentation would have a strong impact on his colleagues and himself, and he asked if I would consider presenting my story for his company.  His initiative truly impressed me, and while I’ve never presented in a corporate setting, his forthright approach caused me to respond immediately: yes, let’s do it.

NextRoll is a marketing technology company, headquartered in San Francisco, which fosters a culture of diversity and inclusion through its employee resource groups, which bring together members and allies from different communities.  One of these groups is ChaiRoll, NextRoll’s Jewish employee resource group which hosts events to educate about Jewish history and traditions, celebrate Jewish holidays and give back to the community.  Robert organized my presentation in recognition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. While it was hosted in NextRoll’s San Francisco headquarters, it was also live-streamed to offices in New York City, Salt Lake City and Chicago, so more than 200 people from across the company listened to my message.  During the Q&A I was especially pleased by one very important question live-streamed from the New York office: “How can we best honor the victims of the Holocaust?” and also the very first question because it dealt directly with a memorable personal experience re an unrepentant Nazi: “Have you ever met any of the German rocket engineers who were brought to the United States after WWII?”

Thanks to the ChaiRoll Board of Directors for coordinating the event (Robert Goren, Jessica Grist, Jessica Brown, Sam Shapiro, Will Yeo, Erez Suissa), to Claudia Villanueva (Diversity & Inclusion Program Manager) and to the entire NextRoll leadership team for supporting it.  The superb photography is the handiwork of Laura Finnerty.

audience, center stage

audience panorama

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Manny’s in the Mission, San Francisco, CA – January 27, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Manny’s in the Mission is an unusual San Francisco institution which prides itself on being “a people powered and community focused meeting and learning place which combines a restaurant, political bookshop, and civic events space.”  Its stated goal is “to create a central and affordable place to become a better informed and more involved citizen.”  In addition to hosting its own civic and arts related programming, Manny’s offers its events space to nonprofits, activists, and civic organizations to do their work.

Today was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 75th anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp where the Nazis murdered 1.1 million people, of which 960,000 were Jews.  To commemorate it, the JFCS Holocaust Center organized my presentation at Manny’s.  The Holocaust Center advertised the event to the entire JFCS Holocaust Center community, including young professionals, descendants of Holocaust survivors, parents/families, and the Bay Area community in general.  As a result, approximately 100 people came to the event and filled Manny’s meeting space with standing room only for latecomers.  I was very gratified when, after my talk, many people, young and old alike, approached me to share their family’s history involving the Holocaust.

The event’s successful city-wide promotion was organized by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, JFCS Holocaust Center, while all venue-related matters were managed by Jack Boger, a volunteer and friend of Manny’s.  Friends who came at my invitation were Vicki Buder, American Technion Society (ATS) Senior Director of Development for the San Francisco Bay Area, Yonatan Melamed, ATS Associate Director of Development for the SF Bay Area, Ziv Lautman, a Board Member of the local ATS chapter, and Beate Boultinghouse, a local friend for many years, and of course my wife, Mimi Jensen.

the audience

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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.

Student Notes & Student Reflections

In early March, almost 3 months after my December 12, 2019 talk at AIPCS, I was surprised to receive via JFCS a large envelope with a hundred 4×5 cards with thank-you’s from the students.  My wife Mimi and I read each one, as is our custom, and excerpted statements that resonated with us to add to my website’s post from last December – see below.  I’ve also added 2 of these cards with “artwork” at the end of the photo gallery. However, before posting our excerpts I wanted to inform the teacher, Jennifer Ko, that I was about to do that, and checking her address on her 12/18/2019 email to me I noticed a statement that I had not noticed in December when drafting my original post:  “Also, I’m including a doc that has a copy of my classes’ reflections on your visit.  Student Reflections

I clicked on “Student Reflections” and found 94 forms with questions that Jennifer Ko prepared and her students answered the day of my talk (12/12/2019) or the day after, when it was still fresh in their minds.  Her questions included:

“What is a vivid image that sticks out in your mind from the Holocaust survivor testimony?”

“What is a memory or experience that you can relate to in George’s experience?”

“What is an experience George shared that made you feel sad or scared?”

“What was something that gave you hope about George’s experience?”

“What have you learned from George’s experience?”

“What parts of the history of the Holocaust do you think are most important for us to remember today?”

The students’ answers to these excellent questions are a treasure trove of their thoughts, feelings and reactions, and these excerpts follow those from thank-you notes (below).

  • Thank you for being honest about your feelings and telling us the truth. We really appreciated your visit.  I can see the world differently now.
  • You teach people that staying positive and kind is very important in everyday life.
  • I’m glad there are still people like you. Thank you.
  • You’ve inspired me to do good, and not just me.
  • I appreciate your love that you gave us. We honor you and thank you.
  • Your story taught us not to judge people for their race, skin, accent, etc, but by how they act.
  • My favorite part was when your mom hid you and your grandmother because I know how that feels. That was how I got to America too.
  • Your story has taught us to take nothing for granted.
  • Your story will teach us to cherish every day.
  • Your story has taught us to never lose faith and give up, even in a tough situation.
  • Your story has taught me that life is not fair.
  • I relate to George when he had to keep moving from place to place. I had to move 3 times in 1 year for some reason that I don’t know.
  • I relate to George by having my things taken away from me to give to someone else.
  • You shouldn’t judge people if you don’t know their past because they probably lived through the worst things.
  • Lots of innocent people died just because Hitler didn’t like Jews and made the whole community believe that Jews were bad people.
  • The Holocaust happened and many people died because of one man who got so much power.
  • *Don’t FOLLOW THE WRONG PERSON*
  • I’ve learned to stay positive and to be brave even in tough times, to be nice to people and to be optimistic. I’ve also learned not to be easily discouraged.
  • I can create a positive ripple by sharing positive ideas that can help the whole world community.
  • Genocides can still happen today, so it’s important to be positive and treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • You should study hard if you want to meet your goal.
  • Don’t give up and do what it takes to do what you dream of.
  • Respect others and always try our hardest and never give up.
  • I’ve learned to be appreciative and not judge or create stereotypes.
  • You must not give up without a fight for what you believe or what you think is right.

starting the talk

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