While a large group of area students and teachers plan to visit Holocaust sites in Europe next year, residents have an opportunity to learn locally about efforts to remember the millions of people who perished in the horrors of the Nazi regime.
Classroom Without Borders - a nonprofit educational organization founded in association with the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Holocaust Center - is presenting a program in Wheeling at 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 10. The program, which is free and open to the public, is being held in Troy Theater of Swint Hall at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Dr. Rachel Korazim, an educational consultant specializing in curriculum development for Holocaust education, will be the keynote speaker. In a presentation titled "Numbers, Pictures and Words," she will explore how Holocaust images have affected collective memory and will offer alternative ways to remember and commemorate those who perished, organizers said.
Jamie Baron Jennings, social studies department chair at Wheeling Central Catholic High School, participated in the Classrooms Without Borders Berlin-Prague Study Seminar this past summer. Members of the group are shown here in Prague, Czech Republic.
Korazim, a noted Israeli educator and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, has spent decades working in the field of education, in Israel and around the world.
Also speaking at WJU and sharing their experiences and perspectives will be:
- Jamie Baron Jennings, chair of Wheeling Central Catholic High School's social studies department and a participant in the 2013 Classroom Without Borders study seminar held in Berlin, Germany, and Prague, Czech Republic.
- Jacob Galik, a Wheeling Park High School history teacher and participant in the 2012 Classroom Without Borders study seminar in Poland.
- Dr. Zipora "Tsipy" Gur, executive director of Classrooms Without Borders, which has its headquarters in Pittsburgh. She also is the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
While local educators Jennings and Galik have attended previous summer study seminars, plans are being made for a large group of area representatives to participate in Classroom Without Borders' 2014 study seminar in Poland.
Organizers said the Wheeling contingent will consist of nine adults and 20 students. Student selections are still being confirmed, but the students will be from Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central Catholic and Bishop Donahue high schools and Wheeling Jesuit University.
Adults attending will be Jennings; Galik; Elizabeth Francis, an English teacher at Wheeling Central; Rick Marsh, a social studies teacher at Wheeling Park; Natalie Perry, an English teacher at Bishop Donahue; Lisa Welch, a world languages teacher at Linsly School; Vince de Paul Schmidt, superintendent of schools for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston; Jeff Rutherford, an assistant professor of history at Wheeling Jesuit, and Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner of Temple Shalom, Wheeling.
The goal of Classroom Without Borders "is to provide educators with innovative and informative life-changing experiences through overseas travel." Gur, the program's founder, believes that these educators will then be better equipped to share their experiences with students. The program is designed to "bring learning to life and life to learning."
Preparing for next summer's travels, Jennings said, "The Poland seminar will be an extension of my experiences last summer. Berlin-Prague provided background of the creation and initial implementation of the Nazis' plan; Poland will be to experience the horrible results when that plan was carried to fruition. The Poland seminar will add another dimension of understanding to the complexity that was the Holocaust."
The Central students who will travel with the seminar group will be rising juniors and seniors and will have either already been, or will be, students in both Francis' and Jennings' classes.
"The students must go through an application process to show their academic strength, peer leadership and commitment to community involvement," Jennings said. "Upon their return, the students will create and implement teaching units for their peers, and for students at the middle and grade schools."
Asked how they plan to use their experience in the classroom, Jennings said, "Working with our principal, Rebecca Sancomb, and English department head A.J. Bucon, Miss Francis and I are creating several joint English-social studies curriculum units for immediate inclusion in core courses that incorporate Holocaust literature and studies, with connection to more recent instances of genocide, such as Rwanda and Syria. Our long-term goal is to offer a unique co-curricular semester elective course with this focus."
Jennings acknowledged that seeing and visiting the actual Holocaust-related sites, rather than merely reading accounts of the atrocities, has affected the way she teaches students about the Holocaust.
"My perspective on the Holocaust definitely has changed since personally visiting locations such as the Ghetto Theresienstadt (Terezin) in Prague and Wansee Villa in Berlin," she said. "No matter how well-written or well-researched a history book may be, it is one-dimensional. For me, the story of the Holocaust transformed from a terrible history lesson, to a very personal nightmare because the locations and people became real to me.
"One cannot recreate the intensity of talking with today's residents of Berlin, Dresden and Prague about how their countries are still struggling to deal with the responsibility for, and scars from, the Holocaust, so it also became clear that this is also a current events issue. This has translated in my curriculum development and teaching to be much more conscious of the need to address how such a horrific event happened, because we see scenes of genocide daily in the news," the social studies teacher commented.
Recalling her impressions upon seeing Holocaust sites, Jennings said, "At times, the emotions were overwhelming. Hearing the floorboard creak under my shoes in Wansee Villa, as I walked into the room where the Nazis met to write their 'Final Solution to the Jewish Problem' - as a historian this experience was chilling.
"Standing on the platform of the Prague train station, where Czech parents - during the 'Kindertransport' - handed their children to strangers with nothing but blind faith that they would be met with kindness and safety at the end of their travel, knowing that almost 700 children were saved from the Nazis but their parents disappeared in the Holocaust - as a parent and a teacher, this was heart-wrenching," she related.
Jennings commented, "During the trip, educators and student participants alike often cried together, prayed together and collectively sought insight from each other and our guides to help make sense of what we were experiencing. All of us came home humbled and inspired, with a deeper sense of the fragility of civilized society, the importance of social justice and respect for the strength of the human spirit."