Hillview Junior High School, Pittsburg, CA – November 22, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Hillview Junior High School is a public school with current attendance of 978 students in grades 6-8.  Its student body has very high diversity: 58% Hispanic, 22% Black, 10% Asian, 6% White, and 4% other, of which 71% are considered from low-income families and 22% are English learners.  This makes teaching there not only a profession but also a calling, because Hillview teachers face not only difficulties in attaining academic standards but also student attendance and even discipline without squelching young enthusiasm.  It is therefore the Hillview teachers’ dedication to this calling that results in feedback from parents such as: “I have had nothing but the best support at this school. I had to ask for it, but the response was quick, effective and strong” and “The teachers have been supportive, caring, kind and challenging for my student.”

Hillview has an excellent, attractive and well-maintained website, with each of its teachers having an informative page therein.  My presentation to approximately 340 8th graders was organized by English teacher Carina Pineda, alongside Misha Holz and Kara Fitzgerald.  Pineda’s webpage https://sites.google.com/view/pinedaela8/home includes the following thoughtful, caring, and powerful instructions to her students:

As 8th graders you all are only one year away from graduating middle school and continuing your education in high school. So excited to get to know, learn, and grow with you all this year!

This year in English we will go over multiple themes and through these we will be answering these questions: “What attracts us to stories of suspense?”, “What does our response to conflict say about us?”, “How did the war between the States redefine America?” and “How can life experience shape our values?”

Students, I will accept nothing but your best in this class. I expect you to ask questions. I expect you to be honest with me. I expect that you will respect your peers and I expect that you will respect me. I will be honest with you. I will always make time to answer your questions. I will respect you. If you are achieving less than a C in my class, I will expect you to come talk to me outside of class for extra help.”

It is as part of the question “What does our response to conflict say about us?” that teacher Pineda includes the Holocaust, reading Maus and Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, viewing the movie Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, and my presentation.  Her excellent preparation of her students showed during the Q & A, with some forthright and unabashed questions, quite mature for 8th graders.

Supporting her in yesterday’s event were staff members Misha Holz, Kara Fitzgerald, Darren Gapultos, Pedro Mayorga, Branden Hays, Aaron Thompson and Diane Klaczynski.  Also present were Heidi Leber, Nelson Moreno, Stacey Inouye, William Davis, Kristen Juarez, Anastasia Gellepes, Rita D’Angelica, Marianne Nies, and Miranda Viechec-Lingbaoan.

Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center

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