by George J Elbaum
Kent Mountain View Academy (KMVA) is a grade 3-12 public school in SeaTac, WA, about 30 mi. south of Seattle. Designated as one of Washington’s Innovative Schools, KMVA is small by intent (less than 350 students) and unusual in several aspects: students attend it by choice rather than by geographical location, many have been home schooled prior to KMVA, and the school maintains a strong focus on family and community. For example, elementary students in grades 3-6 are grouped in multi-age home rooms where the first and last parts of each day are spent so that siblings start and end each school day together. There is also special education on a limited scale and these students can be integrated into regular classes as ability allows. A feeling of community/small family among the staff is clearly evident and surely benefits the educational environment for both regular and special students.
Arrangements for my talk were made by Kathleen Bergin of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center and teacher Thanh Thu Do of KMVA.
Open letter to Kent Mountain View Academy
In this “open letter” I want to thank the KMVA community, its teachers, students, and parents, for an unexpectedly wonderful & gratifying visit. I say “unexpectedly” because until the KMVA event I’ve spoken only to middle schools & high schools and thus had some doubts whether 6th grade students would be old enough to really understand the Holocaust and fully absorb my story, but indeed they were. My visit was “wonderful & gratifying” because the students made it so!
First, I must thank teacher Thanh Thu Do for her thorough preparation of the students prior to my arrival about the Holocaust and about my history during it – this was evident from their unwavering attention, their enthusiastic response and their questions – and most of all for the enthusiasm & curiosity she instills in her students. Inspiring teachers produce inspired students!
Next, I thank Debbie Dempsey, KMVA Principal, and Pat Gallagher, Instructional Facilitator, for their guidance and leadership in making KMVA a Washington State Designated Innovative Schools and creating an environment of community for its staff, students and teachers.
Most of all, I thank the students – their enthusiasm and energy in welcoming me with numerous hand-painted posters, home-baked cookies and bunches of flowers, attentively listening to my story, asking thoughtful questions, and volunteering applicable stories from their own lives, all made my visit truly “wonderful & gratifying.” Some examples are: “Welcome” posters by Danielle, Annelise, Abbie, Selina, Rianna and Tatiana, greetings by Keerthie and Michael’s large “Shalom” in English & Hebrew (and a teddy bear now living with my granddaughter Emily), and Jacob’s story of his inspired response to a neighborhood bully by reading to him aloud from the Bible… and the bully stopped, then returned later and apologized!
My thanks extend to the parents who supported their children by coming to the event, “dressing nicely” as their children requested, and perhaps cleaning up the kitchen after the delicious lemon bars were baked!
In summary, my heartfelt “thank you” to all of you.
PS: In late December I received a package of some 2 dozen Happy Hanukkah greetings & cards made by the students, and the one from “the lemon bar girls” even included the recipe for their lemon bars 🙂 Thank you!
I am not completely sure that you will remember me fully but I am a student from KMVA. Today at 10:30 P.M. I was for some purpose brought to this page, and I wanted to thank you again for coming. It was, is, and possibly will always will be, the most memorable experience I have ever had. Your telling of your life through the holocaust was amazing to say the least, It caused my soul to cry for those related to you, any and all groups, and the childhood of innocence you lost. You have made an impact on my life, a crater never to be filled with anything but joy that someone such as you lived. I just want to remind you, that you are an amazing man with an amazing story. I thank you for sharing it with us. thank you for following the purpose that I believe you are here for.
Michael, I remember you very well and have thought of you often. In fact, when I read your first words “I am not completely sure that you will remember me..” I said aloud to my wife “I know exactly who that is” and read your message aloud so she could also hear it. I had hoped to arrange a return visit to KMVA last year but I was very seldom in Seattle, so now I’ve emailed the Holocaust Center (who arranged my previous visit) that I’ll be available on Feb 20 and 23 and hoped that they would arrange a visit to KMVA. They phoned me back asking if I can come to KMVA on the 23rd for an 8am talk (that’s early!) but I OK’d it, so I really look forward to seeing you then. (For more info, check your email.) George