by George J Elbaum
California High School (CalHigh), San Ramon, CA, has an enrollment of 2777 students in grades 9 thru 12 and a truly excellent academic record: while attaining a 4-year graduation rate of 99% vs. state average of 85%, it did so while receiving Great Schools ratings of 10 for college readiness and 9 for test scores. Its ACT college readiness rate is 88% vs. 55% state average, reflecting student proficiency of 77% in English vs. 55% state average and 61% in math vs. 40% state average – an enviable record of both, high student quantity and high quality. Its demographics are White 44%, Asian 31%, Hispanic 12%, two or more races 7%, Filipino 4%. and Black 2%. Such performance has been maintained over many years, such that CalHigh was ranked No. 250 in the top 500 US high schools by Newsweek in 2011, placing it within the top 1.5% of the over 18,000 high schools in the United States.
My 2 presentations (March 29 and March 30) were to approximately 140 10th grade students (and some of their family members) who have been studying World History between the two World Wars. The students’ preparations included reading Art Spiegelman’s Maus, watching The Lady in Number 6, and analyzing art of David Olere, a Polish-born French painter best known for his explicit drawings and paintings based on his experiences as a Jewish Sonderkommando inmate at Auschwitz. This unusual use of Holocaust art is described by CalHigh teacher Regina Lyon as follows: ‘We always look at art in conjunction with literature in the course, and in this unit we talk about different ways of processing grief and trauma, and Olere’s art is our jumping off point for that conversation.” This Holocaust unit is followed by one which addresses the question: “How can we empower ourselves and others to make positive social change”
The 2 events were organized by Regina Lyon and Hannah Cheng, who teach Global Studies English & History, and supported by Tucker Farrar, and the Cal High PTSA and Academic Boosters. My participation and other arrangements were organized by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager of the JFCS Holocaust Center