Open WindowSchool (OWS) is an independent school for students in Kindergarten through 8th grade who have been formally identified as intellectually gifted. The school’s mission is to nurture and inspire students of high intellectual ability. Its current enrollment is 355 students, of which 140 students are in grades 5 thru 8.
My presentation was organized by humanities teacher Arren Ellingson, for 43 7th graders. This study unit is designed for students to understand the causes of the Holocaust and explain the horrific events that occurred. Beginning with a study of the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, students come to understand how racism fueled the events to come. The students were provided a history of Germany after WWI, including how the Nazis came to power, the Nuremburg laws, Kristallnacht, life and death in ghettos, concentration camps, and Jewish life after liberation.
Arrangements for my participation were made by Julia Thompson, Education Program Manager, Holocaust Center for Humanity, who informed me that “OWS students in my experience are unfailingly bright, polite, and well-versed on the Holocaust beyond their years. We have worked with the school for at least 5 years now.”
Francisco Middle School (FMS) was established in 1924, and during its more than 90 years of history has served many illustrious students, such as baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. It has a high-diversity student body of roughly 600 students in grades 6, 7, & 8 who live mostly 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 the students speak a language other than English at home, and 90% are classified as minority and also as economically disadvantaged. The school’s focus is therefore 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 is surely 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, FMS students who have experienced war or violence in their home country can probably relate easier to my childhood. The students’ knowledge of the Holocaust includes studies of how dictators rise to power, and the dangers of modern fascist and extremist political movements.
This was my third visit to FMS (the previous was in November 2019) and my presentation by Zoom was organized by Social Studies teacher Michael Guenza for 150 8th graders in several classrooms, as well as audiences situated in the school library and school cafeteria. Supporting Michael Guenza in organizing this event were Francisco MS teachers Lindsay Yellen, Penny Loftesness, Edmund Chen, Serene Tam, Felipe Segovia, teacher-librarian Brandon Yacobellis, and Francisco MS Principal Liz Fierst. My participation was arranged by Penny Savryn, Education & Marketing Manager, JFCS Holocaust Center.
Crescent Heights High School is a co-educational, public high school in Calgary with an enrollment of 1,842 students in grade 10 through 12. CHHS, as it is commonly known, was established in 1915, and is truly a “school of choice” as nearly 40% of its students come from outside its immediate area. Per its website, “a tradition of excellence and a student-centered learning environment draw students from across the city to enjoy the urban educational experience. CHHS is a school where all students are provided with the support necessary for them to experience success.”
My presentation to 60 11th graders was organized by CHHS Social Studies teacher Brett Wade and arranged by Kael Sagheer, Education Coordinator of the Institute for Holocaust Education.
College Place Middle School is a public school with enrollment of 456 students in grades 7 and 8. The school’s minority enrollment is 56% and 49% of the students are economically disadvantaged. In spite of these demographics, the school’s overall testing rank is in the top 50% in the state.
Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity has worked with College Place for several years. English teacher Jen Haugen has attended the Center’s professional development for teachers, arranged virtual and in-person field trips, and hosted speakers. This year, Jen and the Center’s Education Program Manger Julia Thompson organized a full day program of 5 one-hour presentations by 5 Holocaust survivors to 5 8th Grade English Honors classes of approximately 30 students each. I was one of the 5 presenters. In preparing for this day, the students have read the play version of Anne Frank’s diary, and have learned about the Pyramid of Hate and Jewish partisans of WWII. It was indeed a full day of education about the Holocaust.
Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory (SHCP) is an innovative Catholic high school with enrollment of 1300 students and a dynamic blend of liberal arts, scientific inquiry, and 21st-century pedagogy which develops resourceful, independent thinkers. The school prides itself on its commitment to its educational philosophy, Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve, and it offers an array of courses, from college preparatory through honors and advanced placement curriculum. SHCP’s commitment to rigorous academics and social justice helps mold students into hardworking, thoughtful and altruistic adults.
Incoming students are assigned a school counselor with whom they will continue to consult until graduation. In junior year, students are also assigned a college advisor who will guide them through the college research, application and financial aid process. SHCP’s Counseling and Advising Program provides parents and students the academic guidance they need to navigate a challenging college prep curriculum commensurate with the individual student’s talents and aspirations, making the transition from SHC to college as seamless as possible.
Because SHCP lies in the heart of San Francisco’s technology center and near Silicon Valley, plus it has an active network of alumni, parents and professional partners, it established the Student Launch Initiative (SLI) as the area’s preeminent high school entrepreneurship program. This program teaches students to identify problems and design solutions that positively impact the lives of their peers, their families, and their community. Through SLI’s workshops and speakers’ series, industry innovators and entrepreneurs introduce students to entrepreneurial concepts including ideation, project development and business model development. SLI goes beyond the classroom to provide hands-on experience, practical learning, direct mentorship, and seed funding to help launch student projects.
This was my 4th visit to SHCP since 2017 (with a 2-year hiatus for Covid), and once again it was organized by Ish Ruiz, with unabated energy as in previous years! The audience consisted of 5 classrooms of students (see photo below), one of which was Ish’s 12th graders of his Comparative Religions class. His students had 3 lessons on the Holocaust preparing for my visit, spending approximately 4 hours studying it and reading excerpts from Night. Arrangements for the talk were made by Penny Savryn, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Education & Marketing Manager, with assistance from Veronica Siegel, its Administrative Program Coordinator.
The JFCS Holocaust Center jointly with Marin County Office of Education organized an online community workshop on Confronting Antisemitism, which was followed by my presentation. The audience of 81 who registered for the workshop included 6 educators, 20 high school students, and while most were from California, there were registrants from Florida, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and even from Australia and Malaysia.
Audience questions included many that have been asked often after my talks, such as “Have you encountered people who believe that the Holocaust did not occur? What would you say to those people?”, to which I re-told my lengthy answer #99 in “Student Questions” on my website www.neitheryesterdays.com”, and also a new (for me) question “Is education enough?”. My opinion: since Nazi Germany was perhaps the most educated country in the world in 1939, education clearly does not make us any more humane.
The event was organized by JFCS Holocaust Center Director, Morgan Blum Schneider, and its Education & Marketing Manager, Penny Savryn, with assistance from Veronica Siegel, its Administrative Program Coordinator.
Boston Latin Academy is an inner-city, co-ed, grades 7-12 public exam school serving nearly 1,770 economically and culturally diverse students: White 29.1%, Hispanic 25.5%, Asian 21%, Black 20.9%, Multi Race 3.2%, Other .3%. The economically disadvantaged student population is 50.94%, and many students speak languages other than English at home. In spite, or perhaps because, of these challenging demographics, the students of Boston Latin Academy (BLA), their parents, and faculty/staff share a commitment to excellence, and BLA’s curriculum has been developed to ensure that all students are well-prepared for success in college, in career, and in life.
The impressive success of this effort is shown by BLA’s GreatSchools ratings of 9/10 in Test Scores and College Readiness.
-Test Scores vs. state averages are: English 76% vs. 53%; Math 80% vs. 50%; Science 47% vs. 38%; Physics 52% vs. 36%.
– College Readiness criteria vs. state averages are: graduation rate 96% vs 89%; average SAT score 1178 vs 1112; and AP course participation 43% vs 20%. A very telling criterium in college readiness is the percent of graduates needing remediation in college: only 2% of Boston Latin graduates require it vs. 24% state average.
BLA has earned a College Success Award – Gold for its track record in helping students enroll and succeed in college in 2019, 2020 and 2020.
My presentation to 137 8th grade students was organized by English teacher Wendy Hale, and it was arranged by Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves. Several other BLA teachers and administrators attended the meeting as well.
Wilson Middle School in Natick, MA, is a highly rated public school with 940 students in grades 5-8 and a student-teacher ratio of 11 to 1. Its strong academics are shown by its test scores vs. state averages: English 66% vs 51% state avg; Math 68% vs 48% state avg; Science 64% vs 47% state avg. These test scores have earned it a Great Schools academic rating of 9/10, an impressive achievement.
Each year, Grade 7 students participate in a 10-week unit of study on the Holocaust and Human Behavior, including a presentation by a Holocaust survivor. My presentation was organized by Shivonne St.George, Social Studies Teacher and Head of the district’s middle school Social Studies Department, with the assistance of her Grade 7 social studies colleagues, Cassie Lawton and Rick Dumont and my participation was arranged by Jeff Smith, Resource Speaker Coordinator, Facing History and Ourselves.
At my school presentations I always look forward to the Q & A as it is for me the most stimulating part, and at this session I was very impressed with the quality of the students’ questions. The knowledge and thoughtfulness shown by the students’ questions was truly unusual, especially for middle school students, and it reflects on the quality of their education, i.e. their teachers. I feel strongly that good, dedicated teachers make good, dedicated, well-informed citizens, and when I encounter the quality of student questions as at this school, I feel hopeful about America’s future.
Post-talk class discussion & questionnaire
From the thousands of student notes & letters I’ve received after my talks it’s clear that the key to students’ understanding and take-away is a thoughtful teacher-led class discussion with a follow-up questionnaire. The prime example of this is the 5-point questionnaire (below) that teacher Shivonne St. George distributed to her students and which resulted in the above action (sugar cookies) & photo.
What did you think of Mr. Elbaum/s story?
How did it make you feel?
What do you understand about the Holocaust after listening to his story?
If you had the chance to meet Mr. Elbaum in person, what would you say to him?
Below is a list of quotes from Mr. Elbaum’s testimony. Which one speaks to you most and why? (Five quotes from my talks were listed on the questionnaire.)
Replies to #5 were as varied as the quotes, and all were thoughtful, but one student’s reply resulted in prompt action, and it was actually to a different quote from the 5 listed.
“The quote that stood out to me was ‘That sugar was the best taste of my entire life.’ This struck me because it made me think about being grateful for what we have. The fact that a small cube of sugar meant so much to Mr. Elbaum made me a) feel so grateful for the fact that I can go to my pantry and let a cube of sugar dissolve on my tongue, and b) bake a bunch of sugar cookies and mail them to Mr. Elbaum. It also makes me think about the simple things in life. Making chai with my dad, tasting a fresh-baked cookie. The testimony solidified my belief that it’s the small things, small acts of love and kindness that make life worth living.” Thus, the class baked sugar cookies!
Aside from replies to the questionnaire (above), I also received Thank You letters from many students which were exceptionally thoughtful and mature, especially for 7th graders, and one in particular still stands out for me.
“Ever since your testimony I have been thinking about one thing in particular that you said: ‘There are no fine people on the side of hate’.” I love this philosophy and from now on will use it to guide my actions. You really influenced how I think about issues surrounding me politically, but also morally. I was also inspired by how you use your story to educate the youth of society for the future of our country, and the future of the world. I will always look up to you as someone who made a difference and will have made the world a better place.”
The Institute for Holocaust Education (IHE) of Omaha, NE, was established in 2001 with the mission to provide educational resources, workshops, survivor testimony, and integrated arts programming to middle and high school students. IHE’s annual Week of Understanding is in its 12th year and brings testimony of Holocaust survivors to over 7,000 students in Nebraska and Iowa each year. This year there are 8 speakers and 12 schools participating. The 2 schools to whose students I spoke are Seward Middle School on March 22 and Fremont Middle School on March 24.
Fremont Middle School is located in Fremont, NE, a 30-minute drive northwest of Omaha. While many schools simply separate students by age with the same programming in place, Fremont Middle School recognizes and celebrates the middle level with specialized programming designed specifically for the pre-teen student. This programming allows students to grow and learn in a “small school” environment. Students and teachers are divided into teams of approximately 100 students. The primary goal of each team is to provide 21st Century, real-world instruction through the lens of a small community. Teams focus on interdisciplinary core instruction in a common space with a common set of instructors.
This is the 3rd year Fremont has participated in the Week of Understanding, facilitated by using Zoom. My presentation to 110 8th grade students was organized by teacher Sara Bigsby, and my participation in Week of Understanding was arranged by Scott Littky, IHE’s Executive Director, and Kael Sagheer, IHE’s Education Coordinator.
Educators for Change (EFC) is a group of dedicated educators who have committed to taking an active role in Holocaust education in Washington state and inform the educational programs and resources of the Holocaust Center for Humanity. Teachers are selected by the Holocaust Center based on their engagement, qualifications, geographical location, and commitment to Holocaust education. The Holocaust Center strives to provide EFC with deepened knowledge, not only about the Holocaust but other considerations, such as the challenges of teaching its lessons successfully, as well as a community for collaborative purposes. At the same time EFC provides the Center with invaluable feedback and input that helps guide its decisions about its programs and resources.
EFC’s membership is approximately 40 educators in total, ranging from upper elementary to college educators, and its sessions typically have 30-35 attendees, which is quite remarkable currently given teacher burnout this year due to Covid. My presentation to EFC was organized by Paul V. Regelbrugge, the Holocaust Center’s Director of Education, at the invitation by Ilana Cone Kennedy, its Chief Operating Officer.
One very pleasant “re-connection” for me was with Rosemary Conroy of St. Luke School in Shoreline, WA, where I spoke November 11, 2011, barely one year after my very first talk. To my great surprise, Rosemary and her class presented me with a child’s red tricycle, which I describe in my book as my present for my 3rd birthday in Warsaw in 1941, which is my very, very first memory!