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Duval Middle Schoolers Learn About Holocaust From Survivor

Lindsey Kilbride
Caroline Lee's seventh-grade English-language arts class is learning about the Holocaust.

A Duval County middle-school teacher is going beyond required curriculum to make sure her students have a deep understanding of the Holocaust.

“We’re trying to make better human beings here,” said Caroline Lee, a seventh-grade English-language arts teacher at Darnell Cookman.

Lee began her Holocaust unit about a month ago. For the first lesson, she asked students to take a mental trip in the shoes of a Jewish child living in World War II Europe. She told them to hurry, because they’d be leaving their homes in five minutes, and they’d have to choose what they’d bring.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
Lee's class made posters explaining different aspects of the Holocaust.

“The students had absolutely no idea what was going on, and, obviously, some said, ‘My phone and my charger,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Right, now you’re going to go down to the main square with these things in a small carry-on bag, and you don’t know where you’re going.’”

She said her students are required to read the book “Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” about a Jewish boy and gentile boy who become friends during the Holocaust. She said it doesn’t go deep enough, “which I think is a little bit sad if that’s what we’re using to teach the Holocaust through,” she said. “It seems rushed. It seems flippant.”

The book meets curriculum standards, like learning the main idea and vocabulary, but she wants her students to really know what life was like in Nazi Germany.

So for a month, she’s had her students teach their classmates about different aspects of the Holocaust. The students could do this anyway they wanted. Some performed plays, or made Power Points.

Credit Lindsey Kilbride / WJCT News
Lee's class made posters explaining different aspects of the Holocaust.

Thirteen-year-old Jose Monteagudo made a poster. It’s hanging on his classroom’s wall next to several others.

“(My project) was one about Jewish life of the kids,” he said.

He drew scenes from different concentration camps.

But he said what was most shocking was talking to a survivor.

Lee invited survivor Gail Halpert to talk to the students. Halpert was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp as a young teen.

Monteagudo recalled, “When her sister died, the soldiers, they took her body and just threw it on the street, and they didn’t treat her with respect, give her a funeral or anything. And that really hit me hard. And they just treated it like trash.”

Lee said many of her students were crying while Halpert told her story. Afterward, she said the students were all asking the same thing: “How could that have happened? And why didn’t they fight back?”

Twelve-year-old Reem Abdelmagid said Halpert’s story was horrible, but it’s important for her classmates to hear.

“We want to prevent it from happening again because in the world that we’re living in today prejudice is part of life, and we need to try to avoid that,” she said.

Next year the students will continue learning about the Holocaust with “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Night” by Elie Wiesel.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.