American High School, Fremont, CA – April 25, 2018

by George J Elbaum

This was my 4th visit to American High School (AHS), which has an enrollment of 2200 students and, in addition to the usual common core academic program, it has a Sophomore Global Studies program run by teachers Wali Noori and John Creger, which includes the Personal Creed Project.  In the Creed, students are asked to reflect on their main influences, their own values, the qualities they wish to develop in themselves to help their own lives, and the difference they want to make in the lives of others or the world.  This not only gives students an opportunity to share their own stories in the classroom but it also includes an extensive curricular exploration of the Holocaust and through it, a focus on others.  Some of the students have classes with both Mr. Noori and Mr. Creger, and in both classrooms students experience not only the academic leg but also the personal leg of learning.  Mr. Noori conducts his own version of the Creed called the Personal History project, in which students are asked to reflect on and present how their lives connect to historical themes, and describe four specific pivotal events in their own life and the wisdom they have gained from these.

As the culmination of the Holocaust unit of instruction, Wali Noori and John Creger organized my presentation as an opportunity for their students to hear a personal story about the Holocaust.  As an introduction, Jack Weinstein of Facing History & Ourselves (who arranged this talk and had previously guided AHS teachers about the content of this instruction unit) spoke to the students about the importance of learning about the Holocaust directly from the few remaining survivors, and for the students to pass it onward someday when no survivors remain.  My talk resulted in a great Q&A session with many thoughtful and penetrating questions from the students.  In attendance was also AHS Special Ed teacher Sally Schmidt.

post-talk group photo

introduction by Jack Weinstein

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Antioch High School, Antioch, CA – April 23, 2018

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.”



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Everett High School, Everett, MA – April 13, 2018

by George J Elbaum

Everett High School is a public high school with current enrollment of 2,071 students and high diversity: 37% Hispanic, 35% White, 21% Black, and 5% Asian, of which 76% are considered Economically Disadvantaged.  The educational task is handled by 141 full-time teachers, the vast majority of whom hold a Master’s degree or higher.  To better prepare its students for the current competitive world, EHS has launched 2 specialized education programs:

–Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics (STEAM) is an innovative approach to teaching, learning and organizing a 21st century global curriculum. Through it, students tackle high-level concept within a “real world” context, working and learning in a project-based environment that teaches them to solve problems collaboratively across all disciplines.

-Allied Health Academy (AHA) prepares students to pursue further education towards a career in the medical sciences through rigorous, specialized curriculum and community-based partnerships.

Everett also has an outstanding athletic program which has garnered many honors, including 27 Greater Boston League Titles, and 12 Division 1 “Super Bowl” Championships.

My talk to 9th and 10th grade students was organized by James Murphy, Everett’s K-12 Social Studies Director, and was attended by teachers Josh Del Gaizo, Amerigo Dello  Iacono, Helen Martin, Lauren Powers, Peter Lahey and Michael Messina.  It was arranged by Judi Bohn and Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves.

(Because of some camera “issues,” my apologies for the quality of most of the photos below.)

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Malden High School, Malden, MA – April 12, 2018 PM

by George J Elbaum

Malden High School is a public high school founded in 1857, and its current enrollment of 1869 might be the most diverse in Massachusetts, with the native languages spoken by its students numbering 18.  Racial diversity goes with the language diversity, and the student body is 28% white, 24% Asian, 22% Hispanic, 21% black, and 3% of two or more races.  Such high diversity, plus the fact that 61% of students are from economically disadvantages families, results in a large educational burden on the school’s administration and its 114 full-time teachers.  The fact that 95% of the teachers have 3 or more years of experience (significantly higher than the 86% state average) only partly ameliorates this burden.  In fact, the teaching staff’s care, concern, and attention shown toward the students that I personally witnessed is what impressed me the most about the school, and I look forward to returning to Malden next year.

My talk to Malden’s approximately 400 10th graders was organized by Greg Hurley, Social Studies teacher and a prime example of teacher quality per my description above.  Also attending were Principal Chris Mastrangelo, Assistant Principal Rick Tivnan, Social Studies teachers Damian Aufiero, Courtney Derman, Michelle Filer, Pat Finnegan, Marsha Healy, Mike Lightbody, Kurtis Scheer, Mark Capansky and Kerry Veritas.   Arrangements for my talk were made by Judi Bohn and Jeff Smith of Facing History and Ourselves.



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Fayerweather Street School, Cambridge, MA – April 12, 2018 AM

by George J Elbaum

Founded in 1967, Fayerweather is a co-educational independent private school enrolling approximately 200 students in PreKindergarten through 8th grade.   Fayerweather structures its Progressive Education on the precepts of Project-Based Learning, Social Justice, and Social-Emotional Development.  It approaches these precepts on the belief that to learn and thrive, children need adults who know, understand and care about them, a sense of security and consistency, high expectations, and a healthy self-image.  To maximize these, at Fayerweather children and teachers work in partnership and dive deeply into subject matter to foster higher level problem solving and 21st century skills.  Social justice is also a core element of the Fayerweather’s philosophy, including understanding different perspectives and caring about one’s community and the greater world.   At Fayerweather, strong academics go hand in hand with a student’s social-emotional health and are interwoven into every aspect of the school day. While these elements of Progressive Education manifest in different ways for different age groups, the use of hands-on, project-based learning is almost always present.

This overall approach is manifested in the following specifics: use of a co-teacher model to provide more opportunities for 1:1 instruction; multi-aged classrooms throughout the school starting in PreK; teacher/student ratio of 1:11, except in PreK where it is 1:8 and an overall ratio of teaching staff to students of 1:6; 85% of faculty with advanced degrees; community service and social justice work integrated throughout the curriculum.  The results are exemplified by a quotation from a 2015 graduate: “Without my amazing teachers, I wouldn’t be the hard working, risk taking, intelligent student I am now. They helped me solve math problems, write descriptively, know the periodic table, think outside the box, and even learn a new language.”

Fayerweather’s diversity is shown by 40% of students self-identifying as kids of color, 27% faculty and staff identifying as people of color.  Over 30% of students receive tuition assistance.

Because I arrived at Fayerweather somewhat early for my talk, I witnessed an especially impressive event of education, creativity and confidence building through public speaking.  The Biographies Project is an annual event for which each 5th and 6th grader selects a current or historical person whom they admire and would emulate, studies that person’s life and accomplishments, prepares an appropriate 1-2 min. speech that person might make, and in a self-designed costume and role-appropriate entry (walking, running, tumbling, etc) onto the stage, gives the speech to the gathered audience of other students, teachers and parents.  Bravo!

My talk to Fayerweather’s 7th & 8th graders was truly a cooperative effort.  It was first suggested to me by Krishna Rajagopal, Professor of Physics at MIT whom I know through my membership in the Physics Department’s Visiting Committee and whose son Isaak is a 7th grade student at Fayerweather.  Krishna and 7th & 8th Grade Teacher Jenn Kay.Goodman organized it, and specific arrangements with me were made through Judi Bohn of Facing History and Ourselves.  Also attending it were Fayerweather’s Head of School Edward Kuh, Humanities Teacher Carolyn Bloomberg-O’Brien, Spanish Teacher Chela Badel-Watson, and Growth Education and Sports Teacher Dorla White-Simpson.

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Oakland High School, Oakland, CA – March 29, 2018 (PM)

by George J Elbaum

Oakland High School (OHS) is a public high school established in 1869, so it’s the oldest high school in Oakland and the sixth oldest in the state.  Its enrollment of 1541 students is 32% African American, 31.5 % Asian, 29.3% Latino and 7.2% all others.  The school offers five specialized College and Career Pathways (academies) that prepare students for success in college, career, and community.  From the start of sophomore year through graduation, students are supported in one of the following career pathways: Environmental Science Academy, Public Health Academy, Project Lead the Way (Engineering), Social Justice and Reform Academy, and Visual Arts Academy.  OHS also offers the AVID system, which is a non-profit college readiness system designed to close the achievement gap by preparing students for 4-yr college eligibility.  It has a proven track record in bringing out the best in students, while still allowing course-selection flexibility.

As part of the English and History curriculum, for the past 6 weeks OHS students have been exploring the Holocaust, genocide, inter-generational trauma and resistance and responses to hate. This included a case study on the rise of Hitler, reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and coupling these with a project on hate crimes then and now.  The final product of the students’ effort is a podcast which the students produced and shared today with community members via a small station in the school’s theater.  The whole event was organized by English teacher Jessica Forbes and History teacher Tara Asciutto, who invited Sarah Altschul of Facing History and Ourselves, to make opening remarks.  Sarah, in turn, arranged for my participation.  Attending the event also were OHS Principal Matin Abdel Qawi and Public Health Academy teachers Suzi LeBaron and Heather Mackey.

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Monte Vista High School, Danville, CA – March 29, 2018 (AM)

by George J Elbaum

Monte Vista High School (MVHigh) is a 9-12 public school with a student body of almost 2500 students which is 61% Caucasian, 21% Asian, 9% Hispanic, and 9% for all others.  The school has a strong focus on academic excellence, which results in significantly increasing SAT scores for the last 3 years consecutively, and in recognition as a 4-time California Distinguished School and a National Blue Ribbon School.  MVHigh even has College Connect, which allows students to enroll in a shortened high school schedule to attend college courses in their 11th and 12th grades and complete up to 30 units aligned with UC and CSU requirements.  Thus 73% of graduating students attend a 4-year college and 23% attend a 2-year college.  Athletics are not short-changed by academics, with MVHigh teams winning league and even state championships in 2016-2017 in football, baseball, women’s tennis, volleyball and swimming, and men’s golf.

MVHigh is also responsive to student initiatives, as I witnessed regarding my talk.  One of its students, “Sasha,” attended a talk I gave last year at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, and afterwards he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to give it at his school in Danville.  I agreed, and he took it upon himself to bring it to MVHigh.  Relying on his energy and diplomacy, he obviously succeeded, convincing his History teacher, Alison Perruso, to organize the event, which she did expertly and smoothly.  My genuine thanks to both of them, also to Tracy Johnson, MVHigh staff, for her timely “guidance” of a traffic-worn traveler, and to student Hannah for many of the photos she took (see below).  Other Monte Vista teachers and their classes attending the talk were Jennie Drummond, Gina Henehan, Tommy Greenless,  Kristina Zhebel, Bill Powers, Chris Connor and Irene Hashimoto, as well as Assistant Principals Liz Pagano, Kenny Kahn, and  Cheryl Di Grazia.

Students’ letters

Several weeks (Spring Break, etc) after my talk at Monte Vista the mail brought a large envelope with dozens of Thank You notes from its students.  However, we had just left for 10 days in Boston and New York, followed by a week with 4 talks in the San Francisco Bay Area, so a month+ passed before I opened the envelope.  Then, as has been our custom, my wife Mimi and I read the letters together, with Mimi reading each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it mentally and emotionally, and we would jointly choose the statements that particularly resonate with us and excerpt these – see below.  We also appreciated the artistic creativity of the “Thank You” on the front of many of the notes, and several of these are shown on the photo (see last photo below).

  • This story truly inspired me because it taught me to believe in myself and to believe that I can do anything if I set my mind to it.
  • I now have someone to look up to who pursued their dreams. You didn’t give up.
  • Thank you for making a positive change from a terrible experience, inspiring and motivating myself and others.
  • Hearing about how people helped you really inspires me and gives me hope.
  • It inspired me to see how you continued living and fulfilling your dreams despite the hardships you faced as a child.
  • I am forever changed because of you. Thank you.
  • I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to see a survivor and actually be able to hear your stories. It was almost unreal.
  • It was surreal to hear another story from an event that my grandfather lived through as well.
  • Every single one of your stories was worthy of goosebumps.
  • The story of you being in that shed and you looked up and saw the airplane really stuck with me. It helped me see the world through your eyes.
  • The story that really stood out for me was about the dog that its owners had to strangle during the night. It was very powerful and helped me understand the desperation that people had.
  • One of the stories you told that I found very interesting was about the dog. It showed me how much of a big deal it was to stay protected & safe, and to do that there were sacrifices you had to make.
  • Yours was the most eye-opening speech I have ever heard. The idea of having to suffocate my own pet in order to survive was stuck in my mind all through spring break.
  • The story of you in the shed was interesting in how you still felt wonder despite the circumstances.
  • I really, truly appreciate that you took all the horrible things you experienced & found some good in it to teach to us.
  • It was especially interesting when you described your mother, every time you talked about her your face was lit up.
  • Your mother tried so hard to keep you safe, even if that meant having to give you up for a while.
  • The way you spoke about your mother was especially moving to me because I only live with my mom & we share a strong bond.
  • My mom teaches the history of World War 2 to her middle school students, so I shared your story with her and I’m sure she will share it with them as well.
  • Your message of anti-hate was very noble and especially important in this day-and-age when every young person is exposed to some sort of hate daily.
  • I am grateful that you survived to share with us the tremendous life lessons you have that many may never acquire, like the part about being “for things” (not “against things”). That is something that many may not strive for, but it is for me.
  • I sincerely thank you for sharing your life with me, and for the generations that will hear my telling of your story.
  • One thing you said that particularly hit me the most…. that if someone puts you down, they’ve most likely been put down by someone else.
  • When we read about the Holocaust in class it is easy to forget that people just like me were suffering to the worst extent possible. When you spoke it made everything we have learned feel almost personal.
  • You were able to tell your story in such a pure and relatable way was truly amazing. Thanks again for speaking at Monte Vista and I hope you continue to have a lucky and happy life.
  • Even though I wasn’t there, I heard it was pretty good and I am sad to have missed it.


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