ASHLAND, Ky. - The teachers and students at Ashland Middle School have found a creative and informative outlet to learn about one of the most tragic events in world history.
Eighth-graders proudly displayed projects about the Holocaust that they have diligently worked on for weeks, researching its horrific events and the heroes who fought against it.
They showed off the knowledge they have gained during an exhibit in the school library on Friday and presented it to their classmates in sixth and seventh grades.
Teachers Kyrie Litteral and Angie Heyerly said it’s an invaluable learning experience. A new Kentucky law states that students must be exposed to the Holocaust before attending high school. This project helps tie into their ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum by introducing them to presentation, writing and public speaking.
“We really wanted the sixth- and seventh-graders exposed to the Holocaust topic,” Litteral said, “and the idea that they will presenting as a way to show their accomplishments in their learning. Our sixth- and seventh-grade students rotate through and are seeing all these amazing exhibits. So when they get to eighth grade, they will have that same experience.”
The event was started last year. They decided to make changes to the project criteria to open up the student creativity.
“They showed more interest this year,” Litteral said. “We have changed the way we are letting them present their information. Last year, it was more structured. We had just tri-fold boards. This year, we kind of opened it up and have students make their own choices displaying their learning. So they got to pick what strengths they have and how they want to display that.”
“We have artwork,” Heyerly added. “They are just passionate about their own work, compared to just doing a tri-fold. There are many of great ones out there, too.”
Becca Dunn’s presentation included three paintings she created for her project titled “Ms. Irena.” According to Dunn, Irena Sendler was instrumental in saving children from Nazi concentration camps.
“She did whatever she could to save the children,” Dunn said. “She saved 2,500 of them, carrying them in bags, in carpet boxes, taking them in ambulances. She would teach them Catholic prayers, sneak them through the courthouse because they were small enough to get past the guards. She had a lot of connections to orphanages and schools. She would send children there where they could remain safe.”
Dunn said she enjoyed the presentation last year as a seventh-grader and couldn’t wait to make her own. Her paintings were a cotemporary portrait of the Polish freedom fighter. One was to represent the different environments the children would encounter and a third was the two jars that Sendler kept the names of children she helped save.
“How brave Irena must have been to help all those children,” Dunn said, “and the things she risked, so the children could have better lives. She even had a quote that said, ‘If someone is drowning, it doesn’t matter what their religion or nationality is, you have to help them.’ I feel completely like that.”
Heyerly said seeing the grave images of that time has been a real eye-opener for the students.
“They are just surprised just how terrible it is,” Heyerly said. “I think they know about it on the surface, but when you really dive into it, they are learning about all the different camps, the level of torture and the amount of people who died. It’s just overwhelming to them for them to even understand. It wasn’t just the Jewish people, it was more than that.”
Elise Carr and Mischa Coots made a model of the scene at Kristallnacht, referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” It was one of the worst displays of violence during the Holocaust and foreshadowed what was to come.
“It made a really big impact on history, so we thought it would be good to cover it,” Carr said. “Most people don’t know about it. It was this giant riot where they killed 91 Jews. They destroyed all of their houses and buildings, raided orphanages and it last for two days on Nov. 9 and 10 in 1938.
“We thought we could try and make it more easy to understand by making a model,” Coots added. “With all the information, so you can actually see the scene.”
Grace Delaney made an entire book devoted to the women’s Army corps. She drew and illustrated all the pictures herself. She was delighted to show off his artistic talents.
“I chose this project because I thought it was unique,” Delaney said. “Most of the others chose poster boards. I can draw and have been drawing for a very long time. I looked up the pictures online for reference and drew them in the book.”
Delaney said presenting her work was nerve-racking, but the students liked her drawings.
“My project wasn’t that sad because it was about the women’s Army corps,” Delaney said. “It was actually a good thing because women were allowed to be the Army. They had non-combat positions which was better than just being nurses. I was excited to present because I worked on this for a very long time.”
Litteral and Heyerly were proud teachers watching their students learning and embracing skills that will serve them well later in life.
“They are learning how to present their information,” Litteral said. “They are learning how to connect with their audience. They have to maintain eye contact. If they are asked a question, you get to see how they respond in a professional manner. I don’t think it’s as intimidating being interviewed by sixth- or seventh-graders.”
“I think it’s leadership, too,” Heyerly said. “It’s always great to see leadership skills from eight graders and it’s not just a select few, it’s the entire eighth grade. I think that’s amazing.”