by George J Elbaum
Six years ago, almost to the day, I told my story for the first time to young students. It was at Seattle’s Alternative School #1, the 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps, and that talk is the very first post in this weblog. Since then, Alternative School #1 had morphed into Pinehurst K-8 which in turn morphed into Licton Springs K-8 School in Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood. I spoke there today, once again to 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps! In the intervening 6 years I have spoken at more than 100 venues, yet today’s event felt a bit like homecoming.
The stated mission of Licton Springs K-8 is to provide its students with “a creative, holistic, experiential learning environment which nurtures respect, self-discovery and integrity, preparing the whole child to engage our global community.” To accomplish its mission, it uses “an alternative method of teaching that emphasizes hands-on learning, culturally responsive curriculum, and community engagement.”
Conscious of its Northwest location, the school emphasizes the area’s Native experience, culture, and history while serving a diverse, multicultural student community, and connecting learning in the classroom to real-world context. Its curriculum is therefore “Native focused, honoring Northwest tribes and the diversity of Native people throughout the Americas, and includes social justice education, an individualized approach for different types of learners, frequent field trips and community speakers, and shared decision making.”
The same enthusiasm that teacher Jo Cripps transferred to her students 6 years ago was again visible today. I was especially touched when signing autographs after my talk – the students wanted not only their notebooks signed but also hats, cell phones, arms, and even a forehead…a request which I negotiated downward to the boy’s forearm! Assisting Jo Cripps was instructional assistant Muniba Mushtag.
Today’s talk was arranged by Julia Thompson of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.
Letters from students
We were away for several weeks, and a few weeks after we returned I received via Julia Thompson an envelope with notes and letters from Licton Springs students and a teacher. As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it, mentally and emotionally. We were touched by the students’ heartfelt openness and sensitivity reflected in these letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story. Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are excerpted below.
- I’m going to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do. I’m going to put your presentation in a deep place in my heart. Thank you.
- These are the actions I will take to make the world a better place. I will stand up for people who are bullied. I will make sure everyone is treated fairly. I will tell people your story and about the Holocaust so we can prevent another one. I will pay attention to the world so I can learn more about the world we live in.
- I’d read in books, memoirs, and biographies about the Holocaust, but you telling us personally about your experience somehow made it more real.
- Hearing your story made me appreciate everything more, and made me realize that at any point it could be taken away.
- I learned that sometimes people don’t believe things because they are scared to. Next, I learned that we are all people with flaws, but our religion is not one of them. You have given me some courage to tell my wild story. Thank you.
- Even with the bad luck you had, you also had incredible good luck that made you able to survive the Holocaust. Your mom had wits, smarts, and skill, but you had luck, which still is very good. You changed the way I look at the Holocaust and history, and you changed the way I will act!
- From you I learned something big, and now I know what to do with my life. I will listen to my parents. They are the true guides to surviving everything.
- Your mom was a caring person. I never met her, but by your story I know what kind of person she was. (I wish my mom was alive to read these words about her.)
- Your story was exciting and sad and scary. I will never forget your story. (Thank you for the fanciful drawing on the back of your note.)
- Thank you for the 4 drawings on your note (including my book cover, and my mom & me in Paris)
- It’s horrifying what you’ve gone through, being born into war, having to go into hiding your whole childhood.
- When I grow up and have children, I will tell them your story. I will never forget it.
- (From a teacher) It is upon our shoulders to avoid repeating the travesties of the past. It is upon us all to act, speak and live our lives with humanity, deep respect, and loving kindness towards one another and our Earth.