by George J Elbaum
Nine 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 to 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 where I spoke 3 years ago, and today is the 3rd time that I spoke to students taught by Jo Cripps. In the intervening 9 years I have spoken at more than 200 venues, yet returning to Jo Cripps’s class is 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 9 years ago was again visible today, and a wonderful compliment to Jo’s teaching is a statement by Julia Thompson of the Holocaust Center for Humanity: “Some of the brightest stars on our Student Leadership Board were referred to us from Jo.”
Today’s talk was arranged once again by Julia Thompson, Education Resource Coordinator of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.
Letters from students
A few weeks after I and my wife Mimi visited Licton Springs I received an envelope with very nice letters from the students. As has become our habit by now, Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it. 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.
- The three most important things I learned from you are these. First, accept all cultures, religions and races. Second, it’s always good to have a sweet tooth. Third, carry on the stories of Holocaust survivors like you.
- From your story I realized that there are a few actions that I can do to make today better. One of them is to be grateful. Another is to open up. What I mean is if I am with a stranger I won’t be so distant.
- I have to ask why do you think the Russian officer had a sugar cube in his pocket to give to you?
- When you told us how lucky you were I wanted to ask sooooo many questions but I forgot most of them by the end.
- I am going to put the note you gave me in a frame and give it to my kids and tell them your story (when they are old enough).
- You like sweets like me so keep on eating them (but don’t tell Mimi I said that).
- I learned that sometimes you have to sacrifice things to survive.
- I also learned that you could easily get fooled into believing false things.
- If someone is bullying another person I should stop them, like if someone is bullying my sister I should stand up for her.
- I learned that many Holocaust survivors are too traumatized to tell their stories, so I think it was brave of you to tell us yours.
- The most important thing I have learned from you is to follow my dreams even if other people think I am not capable of doing that.