Methuen High School (MHS) is a public secondary school serving grades 9-12. It has an enrollment of 1950, of which 46% is minority and 47% from low-income families. The Holocaust is taught at MHS as part of English Department studies by teacher Jackie Rubino, who organized my presentation at MHS and uses educational materials from Facing History and Ourselves and other sources. This was my 3rd visit to MHS, and many 9th-12th grade students were gathered in 3 classrooms today for my talk via Zoom. As last year, the students have already studied much of the Holocaust and Human Behavior book from Facing History, “Schindler’s List,” selections from the The World Must Know, Night by Elie Wiesel, plus supplemental materials
As in past years, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the students’ questions, and some of their most thoughtful ones about my feelings, hopes, and concerns during the Holocaust have seldom been asked of me in the 330+ talks I have given to date. I’ve long felt that the Q&A is often the most important part of my talks because it represents our 2-way communication, and I was again pleased with today’s session.
The MHS teachers attending this presentation included history teacher Brendan Cripps, science teacher Jason smith, special education teacher Dan Favreau, and English teacher Lauren Smith
Phillips Academy is a co-educational university-preparatory school for boarding and day students in grades 9–12, along with a post-graduate year. It has a very diverse and international student population of approximately 1100 with a student-to-teacher ratio an admirable 5:1, and an expansive worldview and a legacy of academic excellence.
Founded in 1778, Phillips is one of the oldest incorporated secondary schools in the United States. Per its website, it has educated a long list of notable alumni through its history, including American presidents, foreign heads of state, numerous members of Congress, 5 Nobel laureates and 6 Medal of Honor recipients, and has been referred to by many contemporary sources as the most elite boarding school in America.
My talk to 40+ students was organized by Rabbi Michael Swarttz, the school’s Jewish Chaplain, and it was arranged by Jeff Smith, Resource Speaker Coordinator, Facing History and Ourselves.
The Hastings Museum is housed in a building funded by the Works Progress Administration and dedicated on June 15, 1939. The museum exhibits include Kool-Aid, natural history dioramas, local history, weapons, life of pioneers on the plains, rocks, minerals, and dozens of animal species set in their natural habitats, allowing viewers to get an up-close look at many amazing creatures. The museum features a theater with a 65-foot wide screen and a large domed planetarium.
The museum also organizes special exhibitions and events, and for April 28, the anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, its Curator of Education Russanne Hoff organized a showing of the documentary film about that uprising, Who Will Write Our History, followed by a presentation by a Holocaust survivor (invitation below). She contacted Omaha’s Institute of Education Kael Sagheer, who in turn recommended me, and I was very pleased to give my talk to an audience of approximately 200 (photo below) who listened attentively and afterwards asked many insightful questions.
Although my talk was by Zoom, as have been all my talks since Covid started in March 2020, when viewing the whole audience in the auditorium arrayed across my computer screen, I felt almost as if I was actually there. I suddenly realized how much I missed giving talks to live audiences and interacting with them, especially with students who often approach me after my talk and share with me how parts of my story relate to situations in their life. I look forward to giving my talks in person once again.
Rodeph Sholom School (RSS) is a coeducational Nursery-through-8th Grade Reform Jewish Independent School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I spoke to approximately 120 students in grades 6 through 8th of the Middle School, whose curriculum recognizes that those years are a transformative time of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. At its core, the Middle School is designed to provide students with the tools necessary to learn how to evaluate themselves and the world around them.
RSS was the first reform movement Jewish Day School in the United States: sponsored by Congregation Rodeph Sholom, the school started as a pilot project with Kindergarten and 1st Grade in 1970. Today the school is completing its 52nd year, has a student-to-faculty ratio at an admirable 4:6, and strives to raise purpose-driven leaders who are confident, socially responsible, informed, intentional, and passionate.
My talk was organized by Ira Glasser, the school’s Director of Jewish Life and Learning, and arranged by Jeff Smith, Resource Speaker Coordinator of Facing History and Ourselves.
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.