by George J Elbaum
American Indian Public Charter School (AIPCS), is a K-8 charter school with predominantly low-income, minority students and current enrollment of 794 that has had an unusual history since its founding in 1996. Its current incarnation, however, is definitely an admirable success, earning a rating of 9 (out of 10) from Great Schools based on its test scores, equity overview, and year-to-year academic progress. According to Great Schools, its demographics are 47% Asian, 34% Black, 11% Hispanic, 5% White and 3% all other, with 76% students from low-income families, yet its students score a proficiency rating in math of 73% vs. 40% state average and 65% in English vs. 51% state average, especially impressive since 33% of AIPCS are English learners. Furthermore, its advanced STEM courses participation in Algebra I is an impressive 60% vs. 25% state average and pass rate is 80% vs. 79% state average. Also unusual are the statistics of its teaching staff: with 19 students/teacher (vs. 22 state average), its teachers with 3 years of more experience are only 46% of total vs. 91% state average, and full-time certified teachers are 76% of total vs. 98% state average. This means that AIPCS has a much higher percentage of young teachers, and in my 250 talks to date I’ve noticed repeatedly how responsive are students to young teachers. (An example of this are students enthusiastically greeting these teachers in the halls, and when I ask the teachers if these are their current students I learn that they were in the teacher’s class a year or two ago!)
My presentation was to the AIMS College Prep Middle School (6-8), specifically to 6 classes totaling 180 7th grade students in English and History, and was organized by teacher Jennifer Ko, who impressed me with her handling of this large, youthful group with an amazingly friendly yet authoritative manner. The students were reading The Diary of Anne Frank and learning the basics of the Holocaust and the role of propaganda and policy. They’ve watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and read excerpts of child experiences from the Holocaust and many have families who fled from the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In addition to Ms. Ko, also attending the presentation were the teachers of the other 7th grade classes; Ms. Yuan, Ms. Solis, Ms. Vasquez, Mr. Worley, and Ms. Rodriguez, along with the Dean of Students, Mrs. Glass, and the Head of School, Mr. Williams.
Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator of JFCS Holocaust Center, arranged the presentation and attended it. Also attending were Larry and Lisa of JFCS Next Generation Speakers Bureau.
Student Notes & Student Reflections
In early March, almost 3 months after my December 12, 2019 talk at AIPCS, I was surprised to receive via JFCS a large envelope with a hundred 4×5 cards with thank-you’s from the students. My wife Mimi and I read each one, as is our custom, and excerpted statements that resonated with us to add to my website’s post from last December – see below. I’ve also added 2 of these cards with “artwork” at the end of the photo gallery. However, before posting our excerpts I wanted to inform the teacher, Jennifer Ko, that I was about to do that, and checking her address on her 12/18/2019 email to me I noticed a statement that I had not noticed in December when drafting my original post: “Also, I’m including a doc that has a copy of my classes’ reflections on your visit. Student Reflections”
I clicked on “Student Reflections” and found 94 forms with questions that Jennifer Ko prepared and her students answered the day of my talk (12/12/2019) or the day after, when it was still fresh in their minds. Her questions included:
“What is a vivid image that sticks out in your mind from the Holocaust survivor testimony?”
“What is a memory or experience that you can relate to in George’s experience?”
“What is an experience George shared that made you feel sad or scared?”
“What was something that gave you hope about George’s experience?”
“What have you learned from George’s experience?”
“What parts of the history of the Holocaust do you think are most important for us to remember today?”
The students’ answers to these excellent questions are a treasure trove of their thoughts, feelings and reactions, and these excerpts follow those from thank-you notes (below).
- Thank you for being honest about your feelings and telling us the truth. We really appreciated your visit. I can see the world differently now.
- You teach people that staying positive and kind is very important in everyday life.
- I’m glad there are still people like you. Thank you.
- You’ve inspired me to do good, and not just me.
- I appreciate your love that you gave us. We honor you and thank you.
- Your story taught us not to judge people for their race, skin, accent, etc, but by how they act.
- My favorite part was when your mom hid you and your grandmother because I know how that feels. That was how I got to America too.
- Your story has taught us to take nothing for granted.
- Your story will teach us to cherish every day.
- Your story has taught us to never lose faith and give up, even in a tough situation.
- Your story has taught me that life is not fair.
- I relate to George when he had to keep moving from place to place. I had to move 3 times in 1 year for some reason that I don’t know.
- I relate to George by having my things taken away from me to give to someone else.
- You shouldn’t judge people if you don’t know their past because they probably lived through the worst things.
- Lots of innocent people died just because Hitler didn’t like Jews and made the whole community believe that Jews were bad people.
- The Holocaust happened and many people died because of one man who got so much power.
- *Don’t FOLLOW THE WRONG PERSON*
- I’ve learned to stay positive and to be brave even in tough times, to be nice to people and to be optimistic. I’ve also learned not to be easily discouraged.
- I can create a positive ripple by sharing positive ideas that can help the whole world community.
- Genocides can still happen today, so it’s important to be positive and treat others the way you want to be treated.
- You should study hard if you want to meet your goal.
- Don’t give up and do what it takes to do what you dream of.
- Respect others and always try our hardest and never give up.
- I’ve learned to be appreciative and not judge or create stereotypes.
- You must not give up without a fight for what you believe or what you think is right.