by George J Elbaum
California High School (CalHigh), San Ramon, CA, has current enrollment of 2942 students in grades 9 thru 12, of which 61.6% are minority and 6% economically disadvantaged. Its academic record is excellent: while attaining a 4-year graduation rate of 99%, its 2022 US News/Best High Schools Rankings are #1049 Nationally, #149 California, and #30 San Francisco Bay area. This is reflected by student scores of 77% Reading Proficiency vs. 60% state average, 61% Math vs. 30% state average, and 50% Science vs. 30% state average – an enviable record. CalHigh’s demographics are White 38.4%, Asian 39.7%, Hispanic 11.9%, two or more races 7.7%, and Black 1.9%.
My 2 presentations (February 3 and February 6) were to approximately 200 10th grade students in English and History who’ve been studying World History between the two World Wars and were organized by CalHigh teachers Regina Lyon and Ben Andersen. The students’ preparations included reading Elie Wiesel’s Night and looking at art that came from survivors of the Holocaust. Students also investigated artwork by survivors of other genocides to determine how art and language are used to describe an experience that is beyond the average human comprehension.
Both events were organized by Regina Lyon and Ben Andersen and supported by CalHigh parent and guardian community donations. My participation was arranged by Sadie Simon, Education Program Manager, and supported by Andrea Struve, Director of Education, JFCS Holocaust Center
Notes from Students
On May 1, 2023 I received a large envelope from JFCS marked “California High School”, which puzzled me as it seemed so long ago since I spoke there. It was indeed 3 months ago, February 3rd & 6th (and also March 29 and 30, 2021), and teachers Regina Lyon and Ben Andersen sent “Thank you” notes from their students and JFCS forwarded these to me. As has been our habit, my wife Mimi and I read these together and excerpted the thoughtful and sensitive statements that resonated with us. These statements are listed below.
- Your story gave me motivation to also share the stories of my great grandparents and grandparents. Your story is a piece of history that will never be forgotten because you’ve chosen to share it with us.
- I plan to share your story with my friends and family to let them also be aware of an event that should never happen again. Your story has given me a new perspective on life and I am so thankful for that. I am so glad you’re still with us today.
- To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect, but your story definitely opened my eyes to the actual experience of the Holocaust.
- Your perspective was new, and I found it interesting to think about how much you didn’t quite understand, like your situations with the airplane, the soldier, and the grenade.
- I will definitely be telling my family about your talk.
- The way your story was presented really put the atrocities of the Holocaust into perspective.
- I really admire that you chose to retell your story and revisit that part of your identity to help educate people and prevent events such as those. I think I could hear you tell your stories all day.
- I knew about how Nazis ransacked Jewish homes and stores and about concentration camps, but I hadn’t quite considered what people like you, who had been able to escape the concentration camps, had gone through. Thank you very much for this – I will forever be grateful for this experience that you’ve given me.
- Learning about the Holocaust from someone who remembers it from their personal experience is a whole other level. You inspire me so much.
- Your story made me appreciate what I have and what my parents did to make my life what it is today.
- I plan to share your story with my friends and family to let them also be aware of an event that should never happen again. Your story has given me a new perspective on life and I am so thankful for that.
- I am so glad you’re still with us today.
- I have so much heart and sympathy for everyone who died in the Holocaust, but also for everyone who survived, like you!
- You have impacted me so much in a good way.