by George J Elbaum
Notre Dame High School is an all-girls, Catholic, college preparatory school with an enrollment of 630 students. Since its founding in 1851, it has been the premier educator of young women of Silicon Valley based on its motto: “Teach them what they need to know for life.” As such, its focus is on high quality academics, leadership, global citizenship and socially-responsible entrepreneurship. The student body reflects Silicon Valley’s ethnic and socioeconomic diversity, so that half of the 2016 class comes from homes in which a language other than English is spoken and one quarter of the student body receives financial assistance.
Notre Dame students complete a range of community service activities in their four years, as this teaches them to be “socially responsible and answer the call to be a person of justice” and to try making a difference in the San Jose community. By their senior year, students design and execute their own Senior Service Learning Project.
Notre Dame’s focus on global citizenship and individual responsibility has been supported by its involvement with Facing History and Ourselves for more than 10 years, starting with a pilot program integrating sophomore history with English. Facing History units on human rights, genocide studies, racism, art as social protest, and oral history eventually became part of every humanities and science class offered. There is a FH Student Leadership Group that works within the school and alongside other schools’ parallel groups to effect social change and model participatory citizenship. Notre Dame students have met and learned from many Facing History resource speakers, including scholars, authors, witnesses to history, survivors of genocides, and upstanders who have made a difference in their communities.
All humanities teachers (English, Social Studies, and Religious Studies) have participated in seminars, workshops, and trainings provided to the school by Facing History–and all staff members have exposure to key themes in annual workshops as well, because Notre Dame is among the 75 schools across the country who are in a partnership through Facing History’s Innovative Schools Network (ISN).
This talk at Notre Dame was organized by Religious Studies teacher Rita Cortez. I first met Rita when she participated in the educators’ workshop organized by Jack Weinstein of Facing History on January 20, 2016 in Palo Alto, and she invited me to speak at Notre Dame to approximately 160 10th grade World History students on April 20, 2016. Today was therefore my second visit to Notre Dame, starting with a welcoming pre-presentation lunch and chat with teachers and students, then the presentation and Q&A. A wonderful atmosphere! Other Notre Dame humanities teachers in attendance were John Mischke, Nickie Pfaff, and Hilary Orr.
Two weeks after my talk I received a pack of notes from the students, written on lovely, fancifully decorated paper, with the little drawings like an apple tree with a fallen apple added to sweeten the notes (see photo below). The students’ words were very heartfelt, and the gem that I will always treasure is: “You have motivated me to work to a better future!”