by George J Elbaum
City Arts and Technology High School (CAT) is a small (400 students) college preparatory public high school. It has a highly diverse student body: 60% Hispanic, 20% Black, 5% Filipino, 5% White, and 10% all other – 75% socioeconomically disadvantaged, 10% English learners, and 18% with disabilities; yet its ambitious task is to transform their students’ lives by preparing them for success in college and beyond. It does so by providing a rigorous academic experience within a strong community, with small classes and all students taking the course sequence required for application to University of California and other four-year colleges, and with an on-site college advisor who works with students all four years to make sure that they get into a four-year college/university. CAT success in its focus on college preparation results in 95% of its graduates over the last 3 years currently attending college.
In addition to their academic preparation for college, CAT students also participate in a Workplace Learning Experience (WLE) internship during the 11th and 12th grades, working with an adult mentor within a field they are interested in pursuing. This has included internships with teachers, doctors, business owners, scientists, politicians, filmmakers, real estate agents, and many others. The mentor works with the student on location once per week for 9 weeks to give the student a “taste” of the work in the field. Students complete a major project for the organization where they work. This program gives students the opportunity to apply their learning and get a sense of what they might want to study in college. Students must meet the clearly defined WLE standards as part of CAT’s graduation criteria.
My talk to 10th and 12th grade students was organized by World History teacher Allison McManis and arranged by Nikki Bambauer, Program Coordinator of Jewish Family and Children’s Services
Question to be shared
After the talk I was asked a question which, I feel, is so deep and meaningful and powerful as to be shared here, together with my answer. “What does the idea of memory mean to you? How can we help preserve the memory of the Holocaust?” For most of my life “memory” meant to me simply my personal memories, all that I remembered. Then, seeing the movie “Paper Clips,” I had the epiphany that my memory of the Holocaust has value to more than just myself but also to others, to a public or collective memory, and I wrote my book “Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows.” While writing it, I realized that I had even blocked some painful memories from my childhood, probably for self-protection. Then I started speaking publicly to students about my Holocaust childhood, passing my personal memories to them, and hopefully onward to still others, to a collective memory. It is this collective memory that will hopefully keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for generations and may reduce the chance, even by a small measure, of that history repeating itself. That hope is the reason that I keep speaking to students, more than 100 times during the last 7 years, even though each time some pain returns.
Letters from students
A while after my visit to City Arts & Tech a pack of cards/letters arrived in my mailbox, all made by the students with fanciful drawings, cut-outs, etc. (see photo below). However, we had just left for Poland where a series of talks had been arranged for me in 7 schools, and where my book had just been translated & published in Polish. After returning home, my wife Mimi & I read all of them, excerpted those sentences or phrases which really resonated with us because of their sensitivity or empathy, and the results are below.
- I learned that we all have the choice to be a better person.
- The fact that you shared memories that were probably painful to share, it meant a lot to me.
- Thank you for inspiring me to not let anyone discourage me.
- I learned not to take my life for granted.
- Thank you, George, for the experience. I’ve read many books and watched many movies, but none of it conveyed the experience that you told us, none of it brought real feeling to us like hearing you first hand.
- Thank you for telling your story and allowing yourself to be vulnerable for our sake. Continue to be strong, and tell your story.