by George J Elbaum
Kent Mountain View Academy (KMVA) is a grade 3-12 public school in Des Moines, WA, about 30 mi. south of Seattle. Designated as one of Washington’s Innovative Schools in each of the past several years, KMVA is small – it has the smallest campus by far of the 40 schools in Kent School District, which dictates that its peak enrollment will never be more than 400 students. Yet KMVA is the only site in its District able to facilitate the needs of elementary through senior high students, and it does so by its efforts to be a community partnership including students, families, and the District to provide educational options and flexibility in a stimulating environment to produce academic achievement. Because of its small size KMVA is better able to keep students from falling through the cracks, and it allows the teachers to work with them over a course of multiple of years.
KMVA is 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, it groups 3rd-6th graders together and 7th-12th graders together so that students can maintain contact with their siblings, and 3rd-6th graders 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. This is especially attractive to families who have previously home schooled and are interested in accessing public education, families who want all of their children on one campus, students who are looking for a small environment where they remain with a core group of teachers over a period of years, and students interested in a highly academic environment.
I had visited KMVA three years ago (November 7, 2012), received a heart-warming welcome, spoke at that time to the 6th grade class, and I looked forward to returning. What made my visit this time especially interesting and gratifying was that the 6th graders of three years ago were now 9th graders, that Annalise who baked and greeted me with her lemon bars both times and Michael who greeted me with heartfelt posters both times were both taller than I, and that Jason organized and produced a video on the Holocaust that put a lump in my throat. My visit this time was arranged by Amanda Davis of the Holocaust Center for Humanity and it was organized by Pat Gallagher, KMVA’s Instructional Facilitator, who told the students at the end of my talk that I have empowered them, and “When you see something not right, can you do something about it? Will you?”
Letters from Staff and Students
Several weeks after our visit I received a letter from Pat Gallagher. I was deeply moved by and appreciative of this letter, especially of Pat’s words “investing in people on the heart level.” (To share Pat’s words I’ve posted his letter next to the photo of the two of us, below.) I choose to speak almost exclusively to young people because I truly feel that the seeds of truth & fairness & tolerance must be implanted at a young age or these will not grow, and at that age the only way to implant such a serious and life-long message is at the heart level.
About the same time I also received an envelope with a couple dozen letters from teacher Patti Billet’s 6th grade class. The letters were very gratifying, and my wife Mimi and I read these after dinner, as has become our “ritual” on receiving student letters, and from the letters we selected and excerpted phrases that particularly resonated with us. These excerpts are listed below.
- My great-grandfather died in a concentration camp. I have never been to Poland but I want to go there.
- My great-grandparents lived in Poland, and they were caught helping Jewish children hide during the war. If the soldier who caught them had not had just a drop of kindness (and let them go), I might not be here today….
- If someone really sets their mind to something, they can do great things – or in Hitler’s case, terrible things. Hitler was a very powerful speaker, so if he had set his mind on something good, WWII probably wouldn’t have happened, and Germany – or the world – might have been a better place.
- It’s really cool how you can tell something that is hurtful without missing a beat. My grandpa was telling me about my great grandfather when he was a slave, and I tried to tell that story to my older sister and I couldn’t.
- I have always been fascinated about making images in my head of people’s memories, ESPECIALLY yours. It’s basically reading a picture book in my head. It was so amazing and inspirational.
- The way you told your story made it so I could picture it in my mind.
- The part that really changed my life was when you said: “Live in the present, not the past or future. If people become distraught with what has happened or will happen, we would never learn to forgive.” That really gave me things to think about.
- The thing that touched me the most was when you said: “It is better to be for something than against” This is something that we can all apply to our lives.
- Having someone who actually went through it, come and share it with us, was such an honor. It has given me a whole new perspective on the world and the tragedies of war.
- The answers to your challenge questions are: Would I hide a Jew? Truthfully I would, but I would be paranoid of everything. 2. Would I stand up against a bully? Yes, I definitely would.
- Would I hide a Jew, risking my own life? Would I stand up for a victim of bullying? My answer to the first question, it’s something I never imagined I would do.… The second question I find myself unable to answer, maybe because it’s something that happens around me in communities and that’s why I can’t find the answer within me.
- I just wanted to say that I would hide that little Jewish boy even if it meant my life, because I would want to die knowing that I made a difference in this world.
- You gave me a reason to do the right thing.
- It really touched me when you said that you live by the Golden Rule. I decided to live like that too.
- Your story inspired me to live life without hate in my heart.
- When I grow old I am going to make my children aware of this important event. You are passing your story to us. We have a choice of what to do with it. I choose to share it with as many people as I can.
- You are starting a legacy, and a legacy must be spread everywhere. Your words meant something to me: we have a choice, to hate or to love, to be sad or to be happy. I hope I always choose the positive side of things.