Islander Middle School, Mercer Island, WA – May 20, 2020

by George J Elbaum

Islander Middle School (IMS) is the only public middle school (grades 6 thru 8) on Mercer Island.  Its enrollment is approximately 1100 students with 28% minority.  IMS utilizes district-adopted curriculum as the foundation for its core classes as well as offering a variety of engaging learning electives, and it clearly succeeds in this task as it’s ranked an impressive 10th of 441 Washington middle schools.  The school’s mission statement, “We strive to ensure a challenging, relevant and engaging experience where every student is able to advance to a greater level of understanding, ability and performance,” clearly extends beyond only academics, as it prepares its students to “thrive in today’s cognitive, digital, and global world while sustaining their passion and inspiration for learning.”

In addition to academics, IMS has a strong social and societal focus, presenting and promoting subjects such as race and equality, civil rights, and other current issues of our society.  The monthly Principal’s Message on its website also includes down-to-earth advice for students, such as use and misuse of social media, and a monthly Character Trait Dare, such as honesty, forgiveness, etc, with specific suggestions for students to test themselves on that trait.

As part of the school’s societal focus I was invited to speak about my Holocaust childhood to the 8th grade class (approx. 200 students) as I did the previous 3 years.  Unlike the past years, however, the current COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools to switch from in-person to online teaching, and my talk also online via Zoom.  All went according to plan until Zoom crashed several minutes before the end of my presentation and the start of Q&A.  I therefore lost the opportunity to encourage students to speak up when faced with bullying, antisemitism or racism, and also to address the list of 28 questions that they assembled before my talk plus an equal number submitted during the talk via Zoom’s chat feature.  Since I feel strongly that the Q&A is a critical part of the talk, I committed to answering these questions via email.

The event was again organized by Language Arts teacher Joseph Gushanas and attended by Principal MaryJo Budzius and English teachers Aaron Miller and Weston Lucas.  My participation was arranged by Julia Thompson, Education Research Coordinator, Holocaust Center for Humanity.

The event was again organized by Language Arts teacher Joseph Gushanas and arranged by Julia Thompson, Education Research Coordinator, Holocaust Center for Humanity.

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