By George J Elbaum
New Mission High School (NMHS) is a small school community of 265 students and 31 faculty whose goal is to empower the students to become “self-directed, life-long learners.” With enrollment approximately 67% Black, 30% Hispanic, and 3% White and other races, NMHS keeps expectations high but provides a strong support structure to assure success for all students. Average class size of 22 provides the foundation for individual learning as well as both academic and personal support. To that end, students experience a “project-based” approach in their classes and demonstrate their skills through portfolio presentations 3 times per year. My presentation was to the 11th grade Modern World History class of teacher Tore Kapstad. I was impressed with Tore’s enthusiasm regarding the Holocaust unit of instruction, and with the excellent website created specifically for this study unit (http://wh2nmhsholocaust.wordpress.com) by Tore’s assistant, Chris Shepard. My presentation was also attended by NMHS Principal Naia Wilson and teachers Beth Kenney and Kevin St. Dick, and arranged by Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.
Letters from Students and DVD
A month after my visit to NMHS I received a DVD from Chris Shepard on which he had recorded my presentation (thanks much, Chris) and two weeks later I received from Tore Kapstad an envelope with letters from the students who attended it. On receiving these letters, my wife and I read them together after dinner, noted the phrases and statements that especially resonated with us, and I’ve excerpted and copied these below. Though the school year has already ended, I hope that the students who wrote these letters will check the weblog and recognize their own words.
- Throughout your speech you stated that the only reason you survived was sheer luck, but I believe that it was destined to be that way. It was your destiny to survive and eventually one day to tell students just like me about your story, so we may know that no matter how bad things get, we should always have faith and be thankful for what we can be thankful for.
- This gives me the motivation and drive to say that I can go through whatever the situation and accomplish what I want.
- The fact that you never gave up really inspired me.
- The courage you possessed at such a young age was motivating for young people like me because it illustrates the will and capability that is within all.
- If you could experience death in front of your eyes, then I could face simple things I call obstacles. (Thank you to this student for the photos of Boston’s Holocaust Memorial, where I gave this presentation for the very first time 2 years ago.)
- Your book makes me realize that good things do happen to good people who try and never give up.
- I feel that the nicest hearts have been through the most pain.
- You have motivated me to do good not only in school but in every decision that I make in life.
- I know that I was not the only one walking out of that room that day feeling inspired.