by George J Elbaum
Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School (Southeastern) is a public high school with a high diversity enrollment of 1,416 students in grades 9-12 offering a diverse range of educational, vocational and technical programs. The school’s multi-pronged education takes a hands-on approach to learning, integrating academic course work with vocational and technical education. This approach has proven to be successful in educating today’s youth for tomorrow’s challenges in an environment that teaches through example.
Southeastern’s offerings are divided into Academic and Vocational/Technical Programs. The academic program offers a full and rigorous series of academic classes which are kept small to foster critical thinking and exposure to honors-level content. Academics in a 21st century vocational school are developed to ensure that students have equal opportunities for college and career success. Such offerings include AP courses, honors level courses, dual enrollment courses and virtual high school courses.
The vocational/technical program offers a choice of 22 specialized vocational courses to prepare its students in a wide variety of professions, ranging from Advanced Manufacturing & Welding to Video & Performing Arts; from Automotive Technology to Dental and Medical and Nurse Assisting; from Computer & Electronic Engineering to Natural & Life Sciences; and from Cosmetology and Culinary Arts to Marketing & Entrepreneurship – a truly wide choice for students.
Last year I visited Southeastern (2-27-2020) and spoke to 12th graders taking a year-long class of Facing History – Holocaust and Human Behavior taught by Social Studies teacher Amy McLaughlin-Hatch, who expertly organized my presentation. Her students had been learning about the Holocaust for 6 months and thus had a background based on Facing History pedagogy plus material from Echoes & Reflections, Yad Vashem, USHMM and many other resources. However, a week after that visit Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown occurred, and since then education has mostly shifted online, making it especially demanding on dedicated teachers such as Amy, even with her impressive credentials (recipient of Facing History MSS & TOLI Grants, Yad Vashem Int’l & Upstander Academy Educator, USHMM Scholar). My presentation today was therefore entirely online via Zoom, with part of the class in a classroom and part at home.
I asked Amy for her thoughts on the difficulties in teaching about the Holocaust resulting from Covid, and she replied: “Covid has impacted education in so many ways, too many to count. Southeastern students participated in all modes of teaching this year including remote learning, Zoom classes, hybrid learning, asynchronous teaching, synchronous teaching, Google classroom, and so much more. But thankfully, due to Facing History and survivors willing to share their stories and make history come alive, our Holocaust speaker talks continued and students have benefited.”
Arrangements for my talk were again made by Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves, whose presence and pre-and-post-talk conversation always add much to my gratification.
Letters from Students
Two weeks after our May 10 session I received two dozen letters from students at that session plus a truly touching Thank You note from teacher Amy McLaughlin. As the day of my talk was a subsequently announced Senior Skip Day, half of the students’ letters apologized for not attending my talk, and some had a humorous reference to it. I read all letters, excerpted statements that resonated or amused me, and the resulting excerpts are given below.
- I may not be able to understand or feel what you went through during these events but I appreciate you bringing awareness to the racism that is still happening in this world. I thank you for your contributions, time, and efforts.
- You have inspired me to go to college, because you worked hard until you reached your goal and that is exactly what I want to do.
- Though I did not get to hear your story, I admire you for sharing a story that was probably a very hard part of your life.
- The people that surround me are blinded by what they have. They take a lot of things for granted, like food & clothing, things that didn’t come easy to you. When you talk to the next class please remind them of all the hidden blessings they have.
- I could only imagine the pain and regret that your family must have felt. After hearing your story I’m going to start taking an interest in the past. Learning about the experiences and problems people face helps me widen my view of what causes thing to happen and how people handle it. Your story will stick with me for many years to come.
- I’ve lived through some hardships myself and was once also separate from my mother. I also deal with various health issues such as Type 1 diabetes, heart murmur, etc., but despite going through everything I tend to go to school each and every day, help my father, take care of my little sisters, go to work five days each week, and much more. I remain motivated because of my two little sisters, one is 14 and transgender and one is 8 and extremely sassy, but I love them more than life itself.
- Thank you for acting as an inspiration and sharing your story.
- I want to apologize for missing you talk because I participated in Senior Skip Day instead. I wanted to take the chance I had to do something ”normal” for my senior year.
- Thank you for taking your time and energy to share your experience with us. It was definitely worth skipping Senior Skip Day for it.