32: Unforgettable

32: Unforgettable

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Unforgettable

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

~Anne Frank

I was teaching a unit on the Holocaust to my freshman class and we were starting with The Diary of Anne Frank. I hadn’t taught this subject before, so I was looking for some ideas. Someone told me about Paper Clips, a 2004 documentary about a school in Whitwell, Tennessee that taught about the Holocaust in a way that was meaningful and relevant for the students. They tried to realistically represent the numbers of those killed in the Holocaust by collecting paper clips for each person. That project really spoke to me as an educator. I wanted to try something similar within my own classroom to see if I could help my students connect to the Holocaust in a meaningful way.

At the time, I was very interested in scrapbooking, and so it dawned on me that we could make scrapbook pages to pay tribute to some of the victims and learn the stories of their lives before they were killed. I called it “The I Remember Project.” The students chose from a list of victims and created “Remembrance Pages” for each person, with as much information as they could glean about the victims’ lives.

When they were completed, the Remembrance Pages were hung on the walls outside my classroom creating the Wall of Remembrance. Later, we took them down and put them in scrapbooks that we kept in the classroom. Each year, we made new Remembrance Pages, learning about and honoring as many victims as we could each year.

That first year of the project made a huge impact and one of my students, Jessie King, did something extraordinary. She wanted to reach Irene, a Holocaust survivor she had learned about through her Remembrance Page. She sent an e-mail to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which we had used as a major source for the project, and they passed her message along to Irene, who lived in Toronto, Canada. Irene’s daughter Judy responded, and when Judy learned that we had never had a Holocaust speaker at our school, she said she would drive her mother the 350 miles to our school in Albion, Pennsylvania to speak to us. Our little, middle-of-nowhere school was being given an incredible opportunity. The kids were beyond excited, and they made T-shirts and banners in preparation.

The lives of our students and staff would never be the same after seeing Irene and hearing her story in person. It was a story that far too many people could tell, and from which a lesson could be learned that is sadly still applicable to today’s world. And all this happened because one young woman whose heart was touched reached out to share those feelings. Because of her actions, my whole world changed, as a teacher and as a human being.

But the story doesn’t end there. Incredibly, a fire was lit, and other students came on board. This was a time of major budget cuts, and our school would never be able to pay for speakers like this, so we took matters into our own hands. We created the “I Remember Committee” to fundraise in order to bring individuals to our school who could expose our students to real-life stories of discrimination, prejudice, and inhumanity. Fortunately, Irene’s daughter Judy had been working to promote diversity and improve race relations within her own country of Canada. She became our “Angel from the North,” setting up interesting speakers for the next several years, including another Holocaust survivor, Max Eisen; Marina Nemat, a published author and survivor of an Iranian prison; Tanya Khan, a devout Muslim woman whose personal mission was to debunk the stereotypes surrounding her faith; and human-rights activists Danny Richmond and Toni Silberman.

When Jessie King walked into my classroom, I had no idea how she would touch my life and afford me the opportunities to meet such incredible people. She became my inspiration. And as she has graduated and moved on to pursue other dreams, she has become my friend. Over the years, she has tirelessly given of herself for a cause in which she believes: to make the world a better, more knowledgeable place in which to live.

~Patricia Wood

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