Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – February 11, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Thornton High School is a public, alternative school with current attendance of 124 students, primarily in grades 11-12, and its continuation program is designed to provide the opportunity for students to earn academic credits and meet the requirements for a high school diploma.  In a broader sense, Thornton’s mission is to build an educational community which would reintegrate at-promise students into educational, social and community activities and to develop feelings of self-worth, tolerance and community awareness, thus becoming productive and responsible citizens.  To foster community involvement, for example, students must complete at least 75 hours of community service and earn elective credits.  Students are referred to Thornton for a variety of reasons; each has his or her own story on what obstacle(s) got in the way of staying on credit track to graduate on time. With collaboration between the students themselves, families, staff, and community, the majority thrive at Thornton and earn enough credits to graduate on time. Several even end up graduating early, helped by smaller class sizes, increased teacher-student-family contact, individualized instruction, and the ability to earn credit in a variety of ways.

This was my second visit to Thornton, and it was arranged and organized by English teacher Fernanda Morales for 11th and 12thgrade students.  As last year, she preceded my talk by leading the students in reciting the Daily Affirmation (see photos below).

Letters from students

Within 3+ weeks from my visit to Thornton on February 11, our world changed from the “normal” that we knew to the Covid-19 pandemic world, with shelter-in-pace, lockdowns, face masks, and daily statistics on growing rates of infection and death.  It is now 5 months later, and our world is still changing as the deadly Covid-19 pandemic is still with us, and a new “normal” is still ahead of us, perhaps months, perhaps years away.

It is in this changed world that I received yesterday a pack of letters from Thornton teacher, Fernanda Morales, and her students, reflecting on my February talk and their subsequent class discussion about it.  My wife Mimi and I read these letters together after last night’s dinner, highlighted statements or phrases that resonated with us, and I will now excerpt these and add them to the webpost which I added to my website some 5 months ago.  I hope to visit Thornton again next year, and I can only wonder how different will our world be then from what we remember about February 11, 2020.

  • Your story made me feel like I could accomplish anything. It was important to me because you inspired me by facing all those odds and still managing to come out on top.
  • I remember the word “luck” coming from you and that sparked a change in my critical thinking of life. Maybe luck is real but we don’t know yet, maybe there is a whole other meaning in “luck.”  Maybe it doesn’t come out of nowhere, maybe it is there with you for a reason.
  • Your story was riveting but so is your message of tolerance and acceptance.
  • A way I can improve my life with your story is to appreciate what is currently happening around me and not to hold on to hate from the past.
  • When I heard you talk about real traumatic experiences, it made me think twice and appreciate my little problems and have a more positive outlook for my life and future. Thank you for giving us a deeper look than books into the Holocaust and your story and life.
  • I focus on the future and not the past, and it helps me to achieve what I am aiming for.
  • Thank you, George, for opening my mind to your stories throughout this tragic event in history. Your time is very much appreciated.
  • Thank you for sharing your story with us. It was very interesting and inspiring, but also very sad.
  • Something that I took away from meeting you and learning about your experience is a different perspective on life. The way that life can change instantly and how fragile it is, is so overlooked.  After you shared your story, I’ve noticed the little things in my life and now cherish things more than before.

Letter from teacher

  • I have to tell you that this time, your story resonated with me differently than the first time. It touched me on another level – as a mother.  I began to think of my son and what in the world I would do if I had to leave him in the hands of another to be cared for.  I can not even begin to think of how devastated and afraid I would be if I found myself in that situation.  I know I have not met your mother, but I truly admire her for her bravery, intelligence and drive.
  • I also definitely needed the reminder to cherish the gift of today.  Life is too short to dwell on the negativity of the past and to focus so much on planning life that we forget to live life.
  • I remembered the realization that I don’t expect to reach every single one of my students. I simply plant the seeds.  However, those of which I receive the gift of seeing them blossom, I am extremely thankful and once again reminded of why I teach.  I absolutely love my job and for that I am also thankful!

most of the class

About gelbaum

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4 Responses to Thornton High School, Daly City, CA – February 11, 2020

  1. Maria Fernanda Morales says:

    Hello, George, I have been thinking of you! I wanted to let you know that our district’s email was switched to gmail and I lost all of my information including your email. I look forward to hearing back from you at my new email. I hope all is well. Many blessings to you and your wife. My family and I love and are praying for your people!

    • gelbaum says:

      Thank you, Fernanda. I look forward toward visiting you and your students in person when it becomes possible. The online Zoom talks I’ve been giving since March 2020 are fine, certainly better than nothing, but I do miss the personal contacts with the students and teachers, such as you, and I thank you for your kind words.
      My very, very best to you
      George (

      • Maria Fernanda Morales says:

        Absolutely! We hope to have you back soon. I agree with your feelings about Zoom. It’s been a helpful substitute in the midst of all the craziness happening but nothing compares to the personal contacts. As in all things, I know God has a greater purpose and is working behind the scenes. 🙂 I am thankful to have made it through this academic year having learned some very valuable professional and personal life lessons. Much love to you and your family and we will see each other soon! Big hug. ❤

  2. gelbaum says:

    ….and as useful & efficient Zoom might be, a virtual hug just doesn’t cut it! 🙂

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