by George J Elbaum
Seabury Middle School opened in September 2009, founded on the belief that intellectually advanced students learn and grow most deeply when engaged in projects that are relevant, challenging and meaningful. Working in collaboration not only with other students but with community organizations and local experts, students can develop leadership, participate in community service, and engage in rigorous studies that truly make a difference in their own lives and in their community. The school’s program features a unique integrated curriculum in which students make the city their classroom: they take physical education classes at the downtown Tacoma YMCA, do research at the Tacoma Public Library, visit the Tacoma Farmers Market and eat lunch at local cafés. Their art experiences include museum visits and hands-on learning such as creating their own piece at a local glass artist’s studio.
The program for 6th, 7th and 8th graders is based on 3 overall concepts and 3 major trips:
Year One – Concept: Home
Students learn about Washington State and Tacoma history as they explore how our community’s past helps shape its present and future. In science, they study genetics and travel to Mount Rainier and local waterways to discover local geology and environment. Projects include constructing earthquake-safe building models, a Washington virtual road trip and a family oral history project. A study of Shakespeare culminates in a trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Year Two – Concept: The Unknown
Students become deeper thinkers as they tackle the unknowns of the ever-changing global world, discussing international relations, trade, human rights, world religions, philosophy and ethics. Language arts focuses on science fiction and fantasy, and science includes astronomy, quantum physics, psychology and neurology. The year culminates in a trip to New York City and participation in a Model United Nations conference.
Year Three – Concept: Modernity
Students explore the historical events that shaped the modern world through struggle, innovation, and the desire to make it a better place. They move incrementally through time, finding connections between the World Wars and the Holocaust, the development of jazz and changes in American culture, the civil rights movement, and the space race. A partnership with a local senior citizen community provides opportunities for students to meet with those who have lived through some of the events they are studying. Science study looks at advances from the 20th century, particularly the dramatic gains in microbiology and DNA. The year will culminate with a trip to France where students visit important landmarks from their study of WWII, such as the beaches of Normandy and various Holocaust memorials. The 8th graders also complete a Capstone Project, which requires them to pick a subject of interest, research it in depth, and complete a community service project around that subject.
My visit was organized by Jenna Greenfield, the Middle School’s Social Studies teacher, and arranged by Julia Thompson, Education Resource Coordinator of the Holocaust Center for Humanity. The event was attended by Sandi Wollum, Seabury’s Head of School, teachers Jared Mackenzie and Tiffany Price, administrator Jenn Parker, and parents of several students.
Letters from Students
Some weeks after visiting Seabury I received a large envelope with letters and notes from the students and a beautiful, peacock-theme-decorated note from the teacher. As has become our habit by now, after dinner my wife Mimi read each letter aloud as I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally. We were touched by the students’ heartfelt honesty and felt gratified by their responses to my story. The statements in these letters that resonated with us are excerpted below.
- I was too shy to tell you this in person, but your presentation meant a lot to me.
- Thank you for spending your time to tell us these stories. Have a rose: (drawing of a beautiful rose was included)
- Your story inspired me to be proud of my Jewish heritage, and my ability to freely practice my religion.
- Things like the soup story, little things like that are almost comical if they weren’t so grave.
- I am beginning to think that you are immortal. Seriously, a hang gliding crash, a plane crash, and… the Holocaust couldn’t stop you. The classroom is probably a much safer environment.