by George J Elbaum
Antioch High School has enrollment of 1947 students of high diversity: 48% Hispanic, 22% White, 20% Black, 3% Filipino, 4% all others, and 73% of the total are from low-income families. Its teaching staff is 83 full-time teachers of which 91% have 3 or more years of experience. The school’s academic program is divided into 4 Academies: Engineering and Designing a Greener Environment (EDGE), Environmental Studies, Leadership and Public Service (LEAD), and Media-Technology.
My talk at Antioch High School was organized by English teachers Jenine Wolfe and Helen Chaffins, as part of a unique project within the Media-Tech Academy. The link to the project can be found here. The project is focused on the Holocaust, and the participating students did all their preparation outside the regular curriculum, completing a rigorous and self-paced exploration involving reading, writing, viewing, and immersing themselves in materials from Facing History and Ourselves. The project was a requirement to attend my speaking engagement because 10th grade history and English teachers had not yet covered this dark period, and Ms. Wolfe and Ms. Chaffins only wanted students to attend who had some knowledge and sincere interest in the events affecting so many during WWII. They chose a more intimate experience for their students rather than a packed auditorium, and our session was videotaped and photographed.
As a “beyond” opportunity, each student will have a chance to create a documentary trailer or animated short from any combination of media tools. Depending on the outcome of this task, students may invite me to return and assess their products or send them to me electronically.
Arrangements for my participation were made by Facing History’s Jack Weinstein, who preceded my talk with a short introduction. When I arrived home after my talk I received an email from him forwarding to me a thank you message from teacher Jenine Wolfe. In it she conveys a heartfelt appreciation for my visit and its effect on her students, and her words made me feel both very gratified and, simultaneously, very humble. However, her focus and dedication and hope and care for her students are distilled in her last paragraph (below), all of it a mark of a true educator and humanist.
“I do my best to balance my curriculum – to make my kids aware of the atrocities of the past and the very complicated issues of the present, so they can become empathetic and informed change-makers for the future. I have to believe the good in humanity will prevail in the end, and as an educator, I’m obligated to do my part in helping kids cultivate their best selves. Having you speak was a highlight for this school year and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to touch the lives of my students.”