Castro Valley High School, Castro Valley, CA – December 10, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Castro Valley High School (CVHS) is a comprehensive 9-12 public high school with 2800+ students of high diversity.  In the 10th grade, students study the history of the Holocaust as part of the coverage of World War II, and English teacher Katie Stacy takes them on a parallel journey using literature including Maus by Art Spiegelman as well as a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. Many students in that grade level have also read The Diary of Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel’s Night.

This two-pronged, cross-disciplinary approach ensures that students not only have a factual background and an understanding of how the Holocaust evolved in the context of World War II, but also a sense of the psychological and individual toll connected with this history.   Maus is drawn from personal experiences of a child of survivors, a graphic novel depicting the relationship between a father and son deeply impacted by history.  The legacies of the Holocaust are not only global and geo-political, as the students learn from their study of history and literature, but also personal and rooted in the family lore of all who survived.

The Q & A session is always my favorite part of any presentation because it often focuses not only on facts but also on personal feelings, and today’s session was no exception.  What makes Q & A especially memorable for me are questions which have never been asked of me in the 250 talks I’ve given to date (such as today’s “How do you want our generation to pass on your story and your words?”), which required me to pause and dig deeply into my feelings to answer.

This was my 4th visit to CVHS and my presentation was once again organized by teacher Katie Stacy, who unintentionally gave me a most touching memory as I was about to leave CVHS.  She said that she had bought 3 copies of my book, Neither Yesterdays Nor Tomorrows, and asked me to autograph the books for her 2 sons and her niece, adding that she would give these to them when they’re old enough to benefit from my story.  A bit surprised by her comment, I asked how old are they, and her reply amazed me and made me feel truly honored: “Dylan is 3 years old, Athena is 17 months, and Carson is 7 months old.“  Thank you for your trust, Katie!

In addition to Katie Stacy, I met again and remembered from my previous visits librarian Dana Adams and school guard Eric, with whom we chatted about our years motorcycle riding.  Also attending my talk was Jared Kushida of Facing History and Ourselves.

starting…

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Jewish Family and Children’s Services “The Next Chapter”, San Francisco, CA – December 8, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) is a San Francisco Bay Area social services organization whose mission statement is “Serving individuals and families of all faiths and backgrounds, guided by the Jewish value of caring for those in our community most in need.” As such, JFCS carries a special responsibility within the Jewish community for reaching out to children, the aged, those with special needs, and for the resettlement and acculturation of refugees and immigrants.

Among its many services, the JFCS provides the facilities and educational programs on the Holocaust for visiting teachers, adults, and student groups.  My presentation today was to several dozen students from different high schools and their parents, participating in this year’s Next Chapter program, as I also did last year.  The Next Chapter is an introduction to the history of the Holocaust for 9th through 12th graders.  In The Next Chapter, teens develop profound connections with Holocaust survivors.  By participating in the Next Chapter, students learn about the Holocaust through survivor testimony and hearing from several different speakers over the course of the program. By learning to recognize the value in others’ stories and experiences, students learn to appreciate their own story and identity, as well as gain moral courage and a sense of social responsibility.

My talk was arranged by Penny Savryn, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator, who also introduced me to the audience.  The Sunday afternoon event was managed by Yedida Kanfer, Manager of Library, Archives.

introduction by Penny Savryn

the audience

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Hillview Junior High School, Pittsburg, CA – November 22, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Hillview Junior High School is a public school with current attendance of 978 students in grades 6-8.  Its student body has very high diversity: 58% Hispanic, 22% Black, 10% Asian, 6% White, and 4% other, of which 71% are considered from low-income families and 22% are English learners.  This makes teaching there not only a profession but also a calling, because Hillview teachers face not only difficulties in attaining academic standards but also student attendance and even discipline without squelching young enthusiasm.  It is therefore the Hillview teachers’ dedication to this calling that results in feedback from parents such as: “I have had nothing but the best support at this school. I had to ask for it, but the response was quick, effective and strong” and “The teachers have been supportive, caring, kind and challenging for my student.”

Hillview has an excellent, attractive and well-maintained website, with each of its teachers having an informative page therein.  My presentation to approximately 340 8th graders was organized by English teacher Carina Pineda, alongside Misha Holz and Kara Fitzgerald.  Pineda’s webpage https://sites.google.com/view/pinedaela8/home includes the following thoughtful, caring, and powerful instructions to her students:

As 8th graders you all are only one year away from graduating middle school and continuing your education in high school. So excited to get to know, learn, and grow with you all this year!

This year in English we will go over multiple themes and through these we will be answering these questions: “What attracts us to stories of suspense?”, “What does our response to conflict say about us?”, “How did the war between the States redefine America?” and “How can life experience shape our values?”

Students, I will accept nothing but your best in this class. I expect you to ask questions. I expect you to be honest with me. I expect that you will respect your peers and I expect that you will respect me. I will be honest with you. I will always make time to answer your questions. I will respect you. If you are achieving less than a C in my class, I will expect you to come talk to me outside of class for extra help.”

It is as part of the question “What does our response to conflict say about us?” that teacher Pineda includes the Holocaust, reading Maus and Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, viewing the movie Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler, and my presentation.  Her excellent preparation of her students showed during the Q & A, with some forthright and unabashed questions, quite mature for 8th graders.

Supporting her in yesterday’s event were staff members Misha Holz, Kara Fitzgerald, Darren Gapultos, Pedro Mayorga, Branden Hays, Aaron Thompson and Diane Klaczynski.  Also present were Heidi Leber, Nelson Moreno, Stacey Inouye, William Davis, Kristen Juarez, Anastasia Gellepes, Rita D’Angelica, Marianne Nies, and Miranda Viechec-Lingbaoan.

Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center

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San Mateo High School, San Mateo, CA – November 20, 2019

by George J Elbaum

San Mateo High School (SMHS) is a National Blue Ribbon[3] comprehensive 4-year high school with a beautiful campus which opened in 1927 (see photo below).  Its attendance is 1670 students of high diversity: 44% Hispanic, 27% Asian, 19% White, and 10% other, and 28% are considered as low-income.  The school has a high academic record, with its students’ SAT college readiness rating of 76% vs. 48% state average, and 61% of its students meeting UC/CSU entrance requirements vs. 50% state average.  As a result, SMHS was ranked the 50th best high school in California by Niche, the 216th best public high school in the country by Newsweek[10]  in 2015,  and in 2013 the 376th nationally by The Washington Post‘s ranking of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools.”[  Less recent but no less admirable, the school earned a Guinness World Record in 2005 for collecting 372,000 pounds of food from the local community for its annual canned food drive.[5] The collected food was donated to America’s Second Harvest and Samaritan House, which provides it to needy families throughout San Mateo and Santa Clara counties during the holiday season.

My presentation to approximately 100 9th graders who are now reading Eli Weisel’s Night was organized by history teachers Stephanie Wozniak and Aura Smithers, with support of Alicia Gorgani and attended by Cindy Braganza.  Afterwards, a brief conversation with a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, and especially the tears in her eyes, will remain indelible in my memory.  I was also very pleasantly surprised when given a wonderfully-personal (airplane, sugar cubes, baseball story) “thank you” card drawn and signed by 8 students who attended my talk last March when they attended Bowditch Middle School in Foster City, CA.  Arrangements for my talk were made by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, JFCS Holocaust Center.

starting the talk

ending the talk

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Francisco Middle School, San Francisco, CA – November 12, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Francisco Middle School was established in 1924, and during its more than 90 years of history has served many illustrious students, such as baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and 9/11 hero Betty Ann Ong.  Now its very high-diversity student body, numbering over 600 youth in grades 6, 7 and 8, mostly live in San Francisco’s North Beach, Chinatown, and Tenderloin neighborhoods.  Since these neighborhoods still include large populations of first- and second-generation immigrants, around 80% of its students speak a language other than English at home, 90% are classified as minority and also as somewhat economically disadvantaged.  Francisco’s focus therefore must be on facilitating its students’ enduring success in high school and beyond by providing them with a good command of academic English.  Furthermore, many students and their families originally come from nations such as Vietnam, Yemen, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where war or violence have been or still are a tragic part of their recent experience and modern history.  Effective teaching of such students must be, in my opinion, more challenging, but also more gratifying than teaching “typical” American students, and it therefore calls for teachers with a special dedication or calling to their profession.  At the same time, Francisco students who have experienced war or violence in their home country can perhaps relate easier to my childhood.

This was my second visit to Francisco, and my presentation was part of an 8th grade class in English/Ethnic Studies.  Its teacher, Marna Blanchard, organized my presentation and described her class as follows: “The Holocaust is taught as part of a unit on Genocide and Oppression Across Time and Continents.  The students have all had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust.  Some students are now involved in an in depth research project into the Holocaust, while others are involved in similar research on another genocide or oppression.  Students through their research cover the following: background of the country before genocide began; how the genocide began; what was it like during the genocide; was there any resistance; were there any reparations or reconciliation; and how are things now.  Students will also be answering the Essential Question: how can we learn from history to be agents of change in our global community?  Students have heard the testimonies of Jewish partisans, seen the film The Book Thief and read a number of picture books.  Some are now reading Boy in Striped Pajamas or Anne Frank or Children of Willesden Lane if they are focused on the Holocaust.  Others are reading My Father the Maker of Trees or The Long Walk to Water or Red Pencil or Poppies in Iraq, and many more.”  Cover pages of previous research projects are shown in a display case outside the classroom where I spoke (see photo below).

Supporting Marna Blanchard in organizing this event were also Laura Lin and Tristian Eloise.  My participation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Program Coordinator, Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center

Students’ Letters

Several weeks after my talk at Francisco Middle School I received a large envelope with four dozen Thank You notes from FMS students that were very gratifying as they displayed the students’ empathy and ability to relate my experience to their own lives.  As usual, my wife Mimi and I read all notes, with my wife Mimi reading each one aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally.  Considering these notes were from middle school students, we were impressed by the maturity and sensitivity shown in the them, per the excerpts below.

  • It must have been really hard to speak about something from which you were hiding for the past 60 years. Now your story about your Holocaust childhood has inspired many and taught many.  Thank you.
  • Your presentation about your life has helped me understand reality when it comes to war. I now know how it feels to feel absolute tragic.
  • Your journey during the Holocaust has inspired me to move on from my family’s troubles.
  • I could never imagine how it would have felt to live in a world where you and your loved ones are being hunted down.
  • I wonder if you feel any resentment towards the Nazis after all they’ve done to you and your family.
  • I was really inspired by you, and one thing that I would like to do is to help the world and invent something to help global warming.
  • One thing that caught my attention the most was how clever your mother was. It reminded me of my mom, since she is clever for only a few years of schooling.
  • Something that I had taken from your presentation is that I should be more open to other people of different races and try to make their time at FMS more valuable.
  • I loved your presentation because I could tell that this was all a vivid memory for you, and you used extremely descriptive words, allowing me to picture your story. Thank you for coming.
  • What particularly inspired me was your mom. The wit, intelligence & bravery she had is enough to move even the most unfeeling of people.
  • Your mother was a very intelligent and brave woman, she inspired me to do better in life and in more of a positive way. Thank you so much for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
  • I want to share your story and motivate people to come together as a community and share their perspectives.
  • I learned the importance of having strength in the midst of danger.
  • You inspired me to appreciate my life and be thankful for what I have

photo op at end of talk

the audience

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Oceana High School, Pacifica, CA – November 8, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Oceana High School is a small public high school in northern Pacifica, CA, with a high diversity student body of 622 students, of which 79% are minority and 34% are economically disadvantaged.  Nevertheless, it has a 4-year graduating rate of 94% and academic scores significantly above state averages: English proficiency 70% vs. CA average 50%, Math proficiency 48% vs. CA 39%, and UC/CSU entrance requirements 75% vs. CA 50%.  It has accomplished this by having special teaching programs, exhibition projects in each grade, and a community service requirement for all students.

This was my third visit to Oceana since 2015, and it was again organized by Humanities teacher Coreen Hartig with support from Leigh Poehler, Roisin Madden, and David Roberts.  The audience was approximately 150 10th grade students who have been learning social history and concepts, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Universe of Obligation, the stages of genocide, the Armenian Genocide, Eugenics, and the Nazis’ rise to power. Their year-long study is based on Facing History and Ourselves’ focus on oppression and resistance: causes and consequences.  Also attending the presentation many staff members including Principal April Holland, Wellness Counselor Nico Storrow, Gregory Lukens, Paul Orth, and many others.

In addition to thanking teacher Coreen Hartig for organizing the presentation, I definitely want to thank Marlon, who I believe is a long-time member of Oceana’s maintenance staff.  When I turned off from Paloma Avenue much too early and came upon a dead end, he happened to be working there and “steered me right.”  Then, when after my talk I wandered around school grounds taking photos of student art (see below) and wound up on the opposite side of the school from where I parked my car, Marlon appeared out of nowhere and once again “steered me right”. 😊  So, thank you, Marlon!

On my previous visits to Oceana I was quite impressed with the colorful student art on its concrete walls, and now I did recognize some paintings which I photographed and included in my previous visit web post.  This time, however, there were many more paintings, especially big, colorful, new ones, and when leaving the school after my talk I kept taking photos and more photos and more photos, to show to my wife Mimi who is a professional artist, and to post several of these (below).

Letters from Students

Every once in a while, especially around Christmas time, a mailed batch of students’ letters gets delayed (or lost), only to be delivered weeks (or even months!) later, which apparently happened to 122 letters from students attending my November 8, 2019 talk at Oceana High School.  As has been our custom when getting a large batch of letters from students, my wife Mimi and I read these after our dinner, a couple dozen per evening, excerpting parts that resonate with us, and after several evenings when we’ve read all the letters I add the excerpts to the website post.

Two aspects of the letters and notes from Oceana struck us.  First is the very, very large number (3 1/2 pages!) of statements that Mimi and I found sensitive or meaningful or touching, and thus excerpted from the letters, especially considering Oceana’s modest number of students.  Mimi and I attribute this to excellent discussions that the teachers held with the students after my talk, evoking in them deeper thoughts and feelings about my story, and thus the human condition and themselves.  Next is the large number of creative decorations and drawings on the students’ notes, be these artistic enhancements to the Thank You on a note or humorous sketches relating to my aviation history or love of sweets.  Perhaps the students might be influenced by the extensive student murals on many of Oceana’s exterior walls.

Below are our excerpts from the Oceana students’ letters that I received two weeks ago.

  • I think that hearing your story changed me, because after I got off work Friday I saw a man who was homeless and I gave him some cash I had, and said “if you need anything” and bought him some food, and I thought of your story and I felt good.
  • I was able to both mentally and emotionally get an idea of what you went through, and sort of have a heart to heart connection with you in that way.
  • My friends and I talked about how Nazis were more mentally unstable than the people they deemed to be so. How could a person look into the eyes of an innocent human being and stab them not moments later?  What makes them think it’s ok?  This only comes to show how power can manipulate a large population so easily and at such a rapid pace.
  • Your speech taught me to be less judgmental because you truly don’t know what a person’s been through until you talk to them.
  • There were many moments where my heart dropped and I really could not believe that I belonged to the same species that caused so much damage to its own kind.
  • Your saying, “Be for something and not against something,” will always stay with me as sit’s a very simple but meaningful phrase.
  • After your talk I learned to never take things for granted, like food, water, shelter, and basically everyday needs. When I went home I told my parents about your story and they were very interested in it.
  • Thank you so much for telling us your story, and I hope you know that it has touched many of our hearts.
  • It was the first school assembly in a long time that was truly interesting and impactful.
  • You said some really important things about choosing to be kind and not thinking about the future or the past, but still being mindful of them.
  • I hope you can continue to tell people your story and know that it does get through to younger generations. Thank you so much.
  • Your speech was very inspiring and it touched me very much. This gave me hope that anything is possible.  I hope life treats you well – you deserve it!
  • Do you have any other ideas about what motivates one to share their story after all these years?
  • It’s nice to see things as simple as a sugar cube be so valued during that time. Something most of us take for granted was one of the best things you’ve ever tasted.
  • May your story never be forgotten.
  • I can totally understand what it’s like to immigrate to the U.S. and be clueless about some stuff. I thought your story about learning to play baseball in school was really funny.  It reminded me of when I first came to Pacifica.  I didn’t know the culture here and it was really awkward for me to play games with the other kids.  I made embarrassing mistakes when learning to plan football and kickball.
  • I think it wasn’t luck that you lived through it. I think you are supposed to talk to kids and inspire them.  Everything has a purpose and I think it wasn’t luck that you are alive today.
  • Thank you for coming and telling us your story. I was upright in my chair the entire time, which doesn’t when I’m at school, and whenever you talked about the different times you were saved by luck, I was on the edge of my seat.
  • I hope you still fly airplanes and that they make you feel free and excited, like how the airplane you saw from the shed made you feel.
  • To the luckiest man alive, history shall be told and never to be forgotten. We shall learn from mistakes and never repeat them.  THANK YOU for having the bravery to tell us about those horrible, inhumane times.
  • Thank you for surviving to tell us History!
  • I think you have very good ideals and you are a peaceful person – someone I would strive to be.
  • That was probably the most enlightening moment I’ve had in my entire life. Thank you so much for that, and I hope you continue to spread your stories all around the world.
  • The fact that you we able to find it in yourself to face it and even talk about it in front of hundreds of people is nothing short of AMAZING!
  • Thank you on behalf of my school for not only informing and educating us but spreading positivity and kindness that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
  • You’ve helped me develop a better understanding regarding how victims felt.
  • A lot of my family is from Mexico. They face racism and discrimination a lot, and I’m always there for them to stand up for themselves.  Your story helped me realize that I could do more now and when I am older, not just for immigrants but for everyone.
  • I sent you a 3D printed airplane I modeled in Blender 3D.
  • Hearing from you is so important for us kids, so we can hear from the victim and understand this event on a more emotional level.
  • Thank you for sharing your story with us and making the events easier to grasp.
  • Your whole life is one of a survivor.
  • I also moved here at a young age and I can connect with a feeling of being uncomfortable, but I have adjusted.
  • Your story gives me hope and inspires me to keep going, even when times get hard.
  • I find it very incredible that you made it to MIT and proved everyone wrong. It inspires me to work hard to achieve my goals.  It inspires me to go out of my way to follow my dreams.
  • The story that you shared really inspired me to do great things in my life.
  • Your story made me realize that you were meant to live to spread knowledge and understanding to the youth.
  • Hearing a real story from a survivor really touched my heart. It truly saddens me to know that this was your reality, and I could never imagine the feeling of trying to hide and save yourself.
  • Your talk really changed my perspective on my own life. It made me appreciate the things I have, and that tomorrow is not promised, and stay in the moment.
  • When I found out a Holocaust survivor was coming to talk to us, I was ecstatic. I looked forward to hearing your story the whole week.  When I went home, I told my parents your whole story.
  • I feel that hearing someone talk about their experience is more effective and empowering compared to just learning about it through a textbook in class. Perhaps it is because a person speaking from their perspective makes understanding something more personal and easier to sympathized with.
  • It really surprised me how many times you were so close to death, and how many times little decisions changed your fate. It also shocked me how of all 12 people in your family only you and your mom survived.  I thought this was really sad and it helped me put into perspective how lethal the Holocaust was.
  • You changed the way I think about the world and value my life and the life I was born into.
  • Being able to hear from a person in real life who experienced and lived through the Holocaust affected me differently because it was your story, your journey; not just numbers and facts on paper.
  • Your talk changed me because I want to make my life more meaningful at my age right now and when I’m an adult.
  • We have been learning about genocide for months and we have never taken it personally or thought about its importance until you came.
  • When we discussed what happened to your grandma in the hiding place, it made me think about how I should be grateful for my family & how I should never take them for granted because someday they will be gone.
  • When learning about families being separated, children starving, Nazis torturing Jews, it made me realize how grateful I am because even though my parents are not rich, they still afford to give me a beautiful life.
  • I understand why you felt that being Jewish was a burden. Being Muslim myself, I admit that even when I am proud to be part of my religion, it can be a burden to face prejudice or isolation at times.
  • You also taught us the importance of hope and to look at the present and cherish it.
  • One thing that really sticks out to me is how your mom was a very strong smart woman. It seems she always knew what to do.  Your talk made me think that I am very lucky to live in peace.
  • My only question is do you have a secret you haven’t said yet?
  • What stood out the most to me in your talk was the comparison you made of the Nazis killing the same number of Jews every 8 months as the number of people who live in San Francisco. This really made me see the mass numbers.
  • I have become more curious about how others see things from their perspective. I also want to integrate more sympathy for others because I don’t want to judge how others think or feel.
  • You included so many details that make me feel like I was there.
  • When discussing the Holocaust and WWII my previous teachers focused mainly on the war and the Holocaust itself, so your discussion on the pogroms in Poland, the Soviet occupation and the journey that many Jews took to Palestine were completely new to me.
  • It truly terrified me how regardless of how well your mother or Polish families planned and worked to keep you safe, so much of your life still depended on sheer luck.
  • You were the first Holocaust survivor that I have ever met, so meeting you and listening to your story added a reality and a true humanity to the Holocaust that history books and lessons were incapable of doing.
  • I can’t begin to imagine how difficult the decision to share your story must have been, but I can tell you that what you have told us will most certainly stay with us throughout our lives.
  • Your stories have enlightened us about the hate in humankind, but also the generosity of other Poles when they offered you a home to stay in.
  • You were a young boy who was eating soup because you were hungry. While eating the soup, you saw a Nazi.  Then out came your smile, but you mentioned you didn’t know why you smiled.  It just came out naturally, and this is what I love about this story.  Because of your innocence and natural kindness as a child, without knowing you saved yourself.
  • I will keep in mind your path of fairness and truth that you mentioned as a personal guide to my everyday life. Thank you so much.
  • Your story really shed a new light on my life; it made me start to try to treat everyone with respect and compassion, like you noted.
  • I now understand more deeply the fear and depression that the Holocaust instilled in its victims, and the anger and hatred that it instilled in its perpetrators.
  • Your story humbled and enlightened me, and I know now more than ever the importance of defending the innocent, and my sheer luck for being born into a life of luxury and safety.
  • My teacher asked us if we thought society and people can change. This is really a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” question, seeing as society teaches us how to be, yet people have to make the choice to change themselves.  People can question what they’ve been taught and re-learn love, but it has to be their choice.  That’s why people like you are so important.  You teach us the truth while we’re not filled with blind hatred yet.
  • It is easy to think about the tragedy objectively – numbers of people killed and amount of time – but when I heard how you explained it and all of your childhood memories, it brought humanity to the topic. Thank you for speaking to us.
  • Thank you for opening my mind to a new and more personal outlook on the Holocaust. You have changed the way I will perceive it for the rest of my life.
  • One last and most important messages for me was that sometimes we need trials in life, or we will never be able to grow.
  • Hearing you speak made me feel like it was something that happened in the very recent past and not a distant history.

Letters from Teachers

  • There are no words that can adequately express our gratitude for your coming to our school to share your story, your feelings, and your wisdom with us.
  • Thank you for giving a part of yourself to us, so that our hearts and souls may be filled with compassion and a desire to make our world a better place.
  • You have left your mark on us, and it is a mark that will remind us always to be better – to be kinder, to be wiser, to be more generous with each other.
  • Even though I’ve learned about and studied the Holocaust often over the last 30 years, hearing your experiences helped deepen, clarify, and solidify much of my understanding.
  • Your stories of the several close calls you experienced were excellent reminders of the role that luck has in all of our lives.
  • I will use the information you shared with us to enhance my teaching in the years to come.

students and wall art

 

 

 

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Licton Springs K-8 School, Seattle, WA – November 5, 2019 PM

by George J Elbaum

Nine years ago, almost to the day, I told my story for the first time to young students.  It was at Seattle’s Alternative School #1 to the 7th & 8th grade classes of teacher Jo Cripps, and that talk is the very first post in this weblog.  Since then, Alternative School #1 had morphed into Pinehurst K-8 which in turn morphed into Licton Springs K-8 School where I spoke 3 years ago, and today is the 3rd time that I spoke  to students taught by Jo Cripps.  In the intervening 9 years I have spoken at more than 200 venues, yet returning to Jo Cripps’s class is a bit like homecoming.

The stated mission of Licton Springs K-8 is to provide its students with “a creative, holistic, experiential learning environment which nurtures respect, self-discovery and integrity, preparing the whole child to engage our global community.”  To accomplish its mission, it uses “an alternative method of teaching that emphasizes hands-on learning, culturally responsive curriculum, and community engagement.”

Conscious of its Northwest location, the school emphasizes the area’s Native experience, culture, and history while serving a diverse, multicultural student community, and connecting learning in the classroom to real-world context.  Its curriculum is therefore “Native focused, honoring Northwest tribes and the diversity of Native people throughout the Americas, and includes social justice education, an individualized approach for different types of learners, frequent field trips and community speakers, and shared decision making.”

The same enthusiasm that teacher Jo Cripps transferred to her students 9 years ago was again visible today, and a wonderful compliment to Jo’s teaching is a statement by Julia Thompson of the Holocaust Center for Humanity: “Some of the brightest stars on our Student Leadership Board were referred to us from Jo.”

Today’s talk was arranged once again by Julia Thompson,  Education Resource Coordinator of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.

Letters from students

A few weeks after I and my wife Mimi visited Licton Springs I received an envelope with very nice letters from the students.  As has become our habit by now, Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it.  We were touched by the students’ heartfelt openness and sensitivity reflected in these letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  Statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us are excerpted below.

  • The three most important things I learned from you are these.  First, accept all cultures, religions and races.  Second, it’s always good to have a sweet tooth.  Third, carry on the stories of Holocaust survivors like you.
  • From your story I realized that there are a few actions that I can do to make today better.  One of them is to be grateful.  Another is to open up.  What I mean is if I am with a stranger I won’t be so distant.
  • I have to ask why do you think the Russian officer had a sugar cube in his pocket to give to you?
  • When you told us how lucky you were I wanted to ask sooooo many questions but I forgot most of them by the end.
  • I am going to put the note you gave me in a frame and give it to my kids and tell them your story (when they are old enough).
  • You like sweets like me so keep on eating them (but don’t tell Mimi I said that).
  • I learned that sometimes you have to sacrifice things to survive.
  • I also learned that you could easily get fooled into believing false things.
  • If someone is bullying another person I should stop them, like if someone is bullying my sister I should stand up for her.
  • I learned that many Holocaust survivors are too traumatized to tell their stories, so I think it was brave of you to tell us yours.
  • The most important thing I have learned from you is to follow my dreams even if other people think I am not capable of doing that.

with most of the students: bottom row Jett and Aiden; top row Lawrence, Noah, Caiden, Gracie, Aoife and Mia

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