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

| Leave a comment

Franklin High School, Seattle, WA – November 5, 2019 AM

by George J Elbaum

Franklin High School (FHS) first opened its doors in 1912 as the second purpose-built high school in Seattle, and when in 1986 the city’s School Board proposed to tear down its beautiful neo-Classical building, the Landmark Preservation Board designated it an official landmark which prevented its demolition.  FHS now has an enrollment of 1257 students according to US News Best High Schools, of which 92% are minority (52% Asian, 27% Black, 10% Hispanic, 7% White, 4% other), 72% “economically disadvantaged”.  With many students being immigrants or children thereof, its graduation rate is 82% with math proficiency of 58% vs. 40% state average, and 31% reading proficiency vs. 40% state average.

My talk to a class of English Language Learners was organized by teacher Renee Stern, and with her encouragement many of her students entered the Writing and Art Contest held annually by Settle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity with writing submissions in both English and their native language.  Julia Thompson, the Holocaust Center’s Education Resource Coordinator, arranged my participation in this event.

everyone

 

| Leave a comment

St. Luke School, Shoreline, WA – November 4, 2019 PM

by George J Elbaum

This was the 4th time I spoke at St. Luke School in the last 8 years, and each time I truly looked forward to returning.  My key memories of the previous visits were of an inspirational teacher, Rosemary Conroy, and her 8th grade students who reflected her enthusiasm.  My visit today only reinforced those memories, especially of Ms. Conroy’s infectious enthusiasm and her efforts to help her students become good citizens of the world, especially in today’s environment of growing intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia toward the “others.”

St. Luke School teaches more than 300 students in K-8 grades based on the belief that “quality Catholic education teaches the whole child spiritually, emotionally, academically and socially.”  The 8th grade Social Studies Curriculum, as organized and taught by Rosemary Conroy, is very intensive as it covers U.S. history, Washington State history, geography, economics, politics, and current events.  The curriculum highlights the formative periods of U.S. history: Revolutionary War, development of the Constitution & Bill of Rights, Civil War, WWI and WWII, and it includes an in-depth look at the Holocaust.  Where possible, Ms. Conroy invites outside speakers who witnessed first-hand the events being studied, such as the Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, the Nisei relocation program, WWII POW camps and the Tuskegee Airmen.

Rosemary not only teaches but “walks the walk” in her role on the Teacher Advisory Board of the Holocaust Center for Humanity as well as her 3 months of volunteer work in Cambodia.  When introducing me to her class this time she said: “I won’t feel too badly if you can’t name the first 10 Amendments when you leave my class in June, but I will be devastated if you can’t accept others and treat them with dignity, respect and kindness.”

The event was attended by 37 8th grade students plus seminarian Alex Nelson, and St Luke teacher Jennifer Fargo, and it was arranged by Julia Thompson, Education Resource Coordinator of the Holocaust Center for Humanity.  Two days afterwards we attended the Holocaust Center’s annual Voices for Humanity Luncheon and Rosemary was one of the speakers, giving an impassioned yet very personal speech about supporting all efforts for tolerance, fairness and kindness.  The world definitely needs more Rosemarys!

Letters from Students

A week after returning home from Seattle I received a large envelope from teacher Rosemary Conroy with some two dozen letters from her students.  Because I had East Coast meetings plus another 4 talks in Bay Area schools, it was only yesterday that I had time to open that envelope and sit quietly while my wife Mimi read each letter aloud while I listened and absorbed it.  We were touched  by the students’ openness and sensitivity and impressed by their relative maturity which was evident in their letters, and we felt very gratified by their responses to my story.  There were many statements from these letters that particularly resonated with us, and these are excerpted below.

  • You inspired me and gave me the courage to stand up to the suffering of others.  In fact, tonight I found out about a man who is falsely accused of murder and is to be executed.  The Innocence Project is representing him and there is a petition online to get him a new trial as new evidence has come forward.  I sent the petition to my friends to sign.  A few of them criticize me for doing so and others were indifferent.  At first I felt bad, like maybe I should have been quiet, but then I thought of you and I knew I was doing the right thing.  I feel good about what I have done and will do it in the future, and it is because of you.
  • I learned from your lecture that we cannot depend on a Democratic society to keep us safe and to uphold our values and morals, unless we appreciate it and protect it by being critical thinkers and voting.
  • Your lecture made me think about the divide in the country we have today, the abuse of power, group-targeted hate and violence, and how we should look for and vote for leaders who speak out against prejudice, discrimination, antisemitism and dehumanization.
  • This letter is my promise to you to never turn a blind eye to injustice and to always stand up for those in need.  I hope these words give you hope for the future and express how much I care as every person who I stand up for for the rest of my life will be because of you.
  • You inspired me to stick up for what is right and make a difference.  Hearing that you go and tell your story all over the world makes me want to speak up more.
  • One thing that really stuck out to me from your story was that so many people had put their lives on the line to help you.  When you asked us if we would do the same I realized how hard of a choice that is, because I would never even considered such a big risk.
  • I also loved to hear about how the experience is so different in the eyes of a young child.  That your youthful innocence had protected you made me realize how lucky you had to be.
  • Hearing your story really opened my eyes to the tragedy that the Holocaust was.  I want to thank you one last time, because I will never forget your lessons.
  • You deepened my understanding of the Holocaust and put into perspective the horrible loss of life.  This visit changed my understanding.
  • This visit will live in my heart forever.  Thank you.
  • I don’t really feel empathy a ton, but when you compared the amount killed in the Holocaust to ten times the population of Seattle.  This is coming from someone who had to force themselves to cry at a funeral.  I don’t often feel sad, but this shook me to my core.
  • I could never grasp the amount of killing that the Nazis had done of the Jews and the way you explained it made it so much more clear.  Over six months the population of Seattle was killed, and each of these people were individuals with hopes, dreams, fears, and family.  What seemed so terrible suddenly came into focus, and the picture is so much worse than I thought.
  • I would think of the Holocaust as a bad which should never have happened, but when you told us on a personal level what happened, it changed my vision of the Holocaust for the worse.
  • Your presentation was the most eye-opening thing I have ever experienced.  It gave me this almost window to look into the past and see what happened.  When you explained the death toll as everyone living in Seattle dead every six months, that made it easier to understand how horrific the Holocaust really was.
  • I think the most important thing I learned and will take away from your presentation is to always be for something, and not “anti” and hateful.
  • The experience you related is a gift yet a curse in some ways.  You opened my eyes a little more to see what is incomprehensible for me to understand.
  • My impression is that you wanted us to be thankful for the lives we live, learn and gain a new insight on the past, and if ever we’re faced with a similar problem such as the Holocaust, to help those in need.
  • Thank you for being lucky, for if you hadn’t been I wouldn’t have been lucky to hear your story.
  • Your story has moved me that our world has a lot of prejudice and many other things that separate us from one another.
  • I am so sorry that you had to experience such hatred.  At least God helped to balance the equation with so many generous Polish people who were willing to risk their own life for yours.
  • I hope that you find some healing and forgiveness by telling your story to people like me, who learn from you and empathize with you.
  • I am somewhat of a history geek, but until you spoke the Holocaust was just a list of facts and numbers.
  • You inspire me, personally, to be a better human being through your heartfelt kindness and willingness to share something so personal and tragic.
  • I don’t think it was luck that allowed you to live.  I personally think it was God, guiding you to safety because he knew of the great things you would one day say and do.
  • You have shown me the worst a person can do and how others could inspire from that tragedy.  The most important thing I loved about your talk is how you turned genocide into a lesson to do the right thing.
  • Thanks for coming to our school and teaching me to be an upstander.  I hope I can make a difference in the world.
  • Although we are different physically, I feel like we have the same mindset.  To succeed and make our families proud.  Therefore I take it that you are the perfect role model for me and hope you will always remember St. Luke and I will never forget you.
  • I walked out of my classroom with a new awareness of how hate can manifest into the largest scales imaginable.  That shocked me into really believing that tolerance and acceptance can sometimes be the difference between life or death – I will never forget that lesson.
  • The youth of this era and eras to come must be aware that there was a time when hatred triumphed tolerance and gargantuan number of lives were lost.  If they know this, they will be aware that they can never let that happen again and they must practice tolerance and acceptance to avoid another catastrophe such as the Holocaust.
  • After listening to you, I have such hope for a brighter future for further generations, and for that, Mr. Elbaum, I thank you.

everyone

| Leave a comment

Roosevelt High School, Seattle, CA – November 4, 2019 AM

by George J Elbaum

Roosevelt High School (RHS) was opened in 1922 and named after President Theodore Roosevelt, and with current enrollment of more than 1700 students it ranks as 2nd largest public high school in Seattle.  According to Best Schools, its student body is 31% minority and 12% economically disadvantaged, yet it rates #9 in Seattle and #11 in Washington with a graduation rate of 91%, with 67% math proficiency and 50% reading proficiency vs. 40% state average for both, and with 60% of its students passing one or more AP exams (9-12 grade).

RHS has the only full-time drama program in the Seattle School District and is the home to a highly renowned FIRST Robotic Competition team, the Iron Riders, which is a student-run club offering experience in constructing robots to compete in yearly competitions.  The club focuses on building a team environment and provides an opportunity for students in variety of career paths, including STEM fields, business and administration.

The audience for my talk was composed of approximately 650 students from 9th through 12th grades, most of whom have studied the Holocaust and read such books as Maus, Night, and The Diary of a Young Girl.  The event was organized by ELA teachers, Holly Cotton Howe (to whose class of English learners in Seattle World School I spoke 2 years ago) and Carolyn Hall.  What I most remember about the talk is that during the Q & A I was asked a specific question about my feelings that had not been asked in the 240 talks I’ve given to date, a question that I had to dig deeply into myself to answer, and I always appreciate that.  Arrangements for the talk were made for me by Julia Thompson, Education Resource Coordinator, Holocaust Center for Humanity.

starting the talk

| Leave a comment

Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, San Francisco, CA – October 28, 2019

by George J Elbaum

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 SHCP 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.

Today was my 3rd visit to SHCP since 2017, and once again the students asked some very perceptive questions during the Q&A, including two that have never been asked of me in the 240 talks I’ve given till now.  I’m always pleased when that happens, as it shows me that the students are thinking and it makes me think.  Attending my talk were four groups of students: 12th grade World Religions taught by Ish Ruiz, who organized this talk as he also organized the previous two; 12th grade Living & Dying taught by Kathy Lorentz; 9th grade Scripture taught by Rachel Bundang, and 9th grade World History taught by Jeff & Chris Juelsgaard.  Attending the talk were Ish Ruiz, Kathy Lorentz, Chris Juelsgaard, and SHCP President Melinda Lawlor Skrade, who made me aware of a fascinating study of the effects of the Holocaust on the now-grown children and grandchildren of the survivors.  Arrangements for the talk were made by Penny Savryn, JFCS Holocaust Center’s Program Coordinator.

| Leave a comment

Violins of Hope at Galileo Academy, San Francisco, CA – October 23, 2019

by George J Elbaum

The Holocaust Center of Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) together with Facing History and Ourselves jointly organized a professional development workshop for educators in the greater San Francisco area on the topic of Music in the Holocaust, and specifically on the Violins of Hope Project.

The Violins of Hope is a collection of 16 instruments played by Jewish musicians during The Holocaust. They were collected and lovingly restored by an Israeli violin maker, Amnon Weinstein, who spent more than two decades painstakingly amassing this tragic collection which he calls “Violins of Hope” because they survived concentration camps, pogroms and many long journeys to tell remarkable stories of injustice, suffering, resilience and survival.  The Violins of Hope Project includes a national concert tour of these instruments and a documentary movie narrated by Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody, and it symbolizes the power of music.  It is thus a worthy topic of a workshop for Holocaust educators.

The event was held at the Galileo Academy and organized by Morgan Blum Schneider, Director of the JFCS Holocaust Center, and Elaine Guarnieri-Nunn, Executive Director, San Francisco Bay Area, Facing History and Ourselves, plus Facing History staff Lindsay Gutierrez,  Nga Mai, and Jared Kishidawa, Office Manager & Program Coordinator, who brought in trays of sweets for snacking which I much appreciated :-).  My participation was arranged by Penny Sevryn, Program Coordinator of JFCS Holocaust Center.

introduction by Morgan Blum Schneider

 

 

| Leave a comment

Charles Wright Academy, Tacoma, WA – September 23, 2019

by George J Elbaum

Charles Wright Academy (CWA) was one of the 2 Seattle area schools where I spoke for the very first time in October 2010, and today it was the 10th consecutive year that I spoke at their annual Global Summit.  This year the Summit consisted of 29 high school students and 6 teachers visiting from Colombia, France and Poland, plus students from CWA’s 8th grade class.

The Global Summit is a 10-day program designed to promote peace and social justice by exposing the visiting students to and developing their understanding of the concepts of universal human rights, justice, fair trade and sustainable life styles, and by demonstrating how the choices that each of us makes every day can impact the world. The core of the Summit is a series of speakers whose personal experiences reflect directly on these subjects, and their presentations are followed by group discussions on these very concepts.

This year’s Global Summit was again organized and managed by Ann Vogel, CWA’s Director of International Programs.  She also was one of six Global Ambassadors for the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), and her son and daughter both graduated from CWA.  Ann was assisted by visiting teachers Marina Larrahondo Rico and Robby Pena Nelson from Colombia; Marie Bourgeon and Olivier Tabary from France; Magda Wnuczek and Grzegorz Martyniuk from Poland; and CWA teachers Dan Wicklund, Christina Bertucchi, Rafe Wadleigh, David Bishop, Susan Sparrow, and Jacquie Silberman (who, together with her husband Dan, provided personal “shuttle service”😊 from/to the airport and conversation that was both enjoyable and meaningful).  As usual, the visiting delegations were hosted by CWA teachers and students.

Due to an undetected malfunction of Ann Vogel’s camera, we will be gathering photos from various attendees to supplement the few available at this posting.

| Leave a comment