PILOT MOUNTAIN — Central Middle Schools’s Media Center became a museum recently as students’ exhibits about the Holocaust sat on table and shelf tops before being judged.
Eighth-grade math teacher Martha Hyde said the goal of the effort was to effectively help children learn about historical atrocities so they can be aware of the impact of extreme groups and be responsible as a citizen to such a challenge.
“All of the eighth grade teachers have been so good to work together on this project,” said Hyde. “We could not have put this all together without a large amount of cooperation.”
She said funding for the effort from the Surry County Educational Foundation allowed the school to purchase six books which were the beginning point for student research and offering different perspectives on the Holocaust. Students also were able to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., earlier in the school year.
She said one of the strongest components of the project was allowing students to self select the books to build up knowledge and understanding before they chose a topic.
“I think project-based learning choices are an important component to this process,” said Hyde. “They could choose things like literature, music, writing a poem or making a scale drawing of a Holocaust monument. Students could chose something that would highlight their strengths. Journals could be real or they could research information about a photo they used or write a fictional journal from the perspective of a character.”
Hyde said another goal of the project was to kindle interest of other students before their eighth-grade year. The Holocaust seemed a natural topic because it interests middle school students. The exhibits had to be designed for students ages 4 to 5 years and have to be portable so they could be in a traveling exhibit. She said attention also was given to provide Holocaust information appropriate to the participants ages.
“They had to put all this together for younger children,” explained Hyde. “It is a challenge because a huge amount of this material is just not age-appropriate. It seems to have made them more empathetic and we hope this reinforces the lesson to stand up for what’s right and saying so and that’s an important concept in middle school.”
Wake Forest University Museum of Anthropology educator Tina Smith served as a judge for the project and was impressed.
“This is the first year for this self-selection process and studies like this being a big deal in school systems,” said Smith. “This is what the focus is going to. Going into this new curriculum we (educators) didn’t really know what learning like this would even look like. It was a new direction from the Department of Instruction.”
She said it seems students are responding well even though having a larger part in deciding study direction is new to them.
“They (students) are more used to a more directed approach with a centralized format,” said Smith. “Some of them have picked it up and ran with it, some have struggled.” Smith said in spite of dwindling school budgets and higher transportation costs, museum attendance for her area has remained steady. She said in many cases she brings museum exhibits to schools and helping teachers meet the new standards in the new social studies curriculum.
“Teachers knew that this was coming two years ago, but this is the first year it was rolled out and many teachers across the state only had a week to prepare before class so they struggled,” said Smith. “It’s been a difficult year for many teachers, but we all roll with the punches.”
Students Abbie Stroud, Hope Hinson and Hannah Greenwood used the Holocaust material to put together a presentation titled “Genocide Today” on violence in Darfur.
“Because we got to decide what to do we are more interested in the project,” said Stroud. “Once we started, we found out it’s happening today, too. We saw pictures of kids our age who were just skin and bones.” Greenwood brought her strength in writing to the trio and produced a journal from a woman’s point of view while Hinson concentrated on artifacts.
Stroud said the first day of their research they didn’t know what genocide was and they had a tough time. She said after a few days they were alright.
“Judging the Holocaust project at Central Middle School has been a wonderful experience,” said Wilkes Heritage Museum Director Jennifer Furr. “It is always refreshing to see students learn about history and relate it to issues the world is facing today.”
Genn Reiter of the Fort Dobbs State Historic Site, who also served as a judge, reflected back on judging the exhibits.
“This experience has been fulfilling as a historian and judge,” said Reiter. “It was really nice to have the opportunity to see students use their cognitive abilities to learn about a subject and to pass that knowledge on to future generations. Central Middle has done a good job with this.”
Reach David Broyles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1952.