Brass Community School students did a deep dive into history through active and engaging literacy called Read Aloud.

Read Aloud helps students make sense of the world in more ways than one. It introduces new vocabulary and allows class discussion to take place not only between chapters, but during the reading of the chapter as well.

This improves their information-processing skills as well as comprehension.

Understanding that children learn differently and that Read Alouds support audio learners, students were also encouraged to create their own visual illustrations as Mrs. Bell-Myers read a series of books to build a framework to tackle the subject of the Jewish Holocaust.

‘Sneetches,’ ‘Yellow Star’

She began with Dr. Seuss’ “Sneetches,” which tells the story of the Star Belly Sneetches, who believe they are better than the Sneetches without stars.

The Sneetches without stars are oppressed and not allowed to socialize with the Star Belly Sneetches until McBean comes along and exploits them all by selling stars and removing stars until they are financially depleted.

Only then do they realize that they are all Sneetches.

Next, she read aloud the “Yellow Star” by C.A. Deedy. Nazi soldiers occupied this country and King Christian X of Denmark committed himself to keeping all of the Danish people safe from harm. His clever idea to hide the Jewish people in plain sight by placing stars on all of his citizens, including himself, was simply brilliant!

Students compared and contrasted the two stories by creating a Venn diagram to show what was the same and what was different between the two and utilized a visual primary source to build on a culturally relevant narrative that pushed forward dialogue and curiosity.

This led to great questions such as, “Did that really happen?” “Why would grown-ups do something that they know is wrong?” “Where and when did they take the picture?”

All great questions!

The students were assured that all of their questions would be answered not by the teachers telling them the answer, but by their own critical thinking.

Answers unfold

The following week Mrs. Bell-Myers read a story about Hannah Stern, a 12-year-old girl transported back in time to a Jewish village in 1941, where she’s known as Chaya.

It is through this story and their own visual illustrations that their answers began to develop.

Each day for two weeks students pieced together Hannah’s story by visually expressing their thoughts through Hannah’s eyes.

Students sketched on paper an array of emotions, from love to anger to fear and empathy. By the end of the story and after the applause, the students had a complete story book of Hannah’s life in their hands.

The students now understood how the Holocaust began slowly. They now understood the importance of knowing their history ... our history.

They now know that prejudice does lead to discrimination. With discrimination comes persecution. Once people are persecuted it will lead to incarceration and finally, unfortunately annihilation.

The killing of 6 million Jewish people did not begin with the Jewish people. They simply became an easy target to someone else’s woes. When you violate one group’s rights, it is very rare for it to be contained only to that group.

Students respond

Then we revisited the visual primary source again to see what their interpretation would be now.

Awesome analysis during our class discussion!

“Maybe the people in the photograph did not know what a Nazi salute was so they did not know the history,” Armstrong explained.

“Maybe some people in the photo did it because the others did it,” Benson expressed.

“How could they not know that would hurt someone’s feelings because they are older than we are and we know that is disrespectful?” Jaramillo shared.

“Maybe their teachers did not teach it because they were uncomfortable, so they just skipped it,” Heiser said.

What was even better was when students began sharing their independent home research findings and wishing to share their newfound knowledge with their peers.

Ayers found a site that showed the Jewish IDs along with their tattooed numbers.

Marshall shared his personal experience at the synagogue and translated many Hebrew words in the book. He even sang a Jewish song for the class!

Museum trip

Finally, what we all had been waiting for, the educational trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill. The docents were absolutely wonderful as they guided us back in time, much like Hannah.

As a teacher, one of the highlights of the tour was when we entered the Remembrance Room. The six skylights each represent 1 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

Then, as though a light switch went on inside of the children, they began to acknowledge the written names on the curved wall as if they knew them. The names were from the book we read.

Through their excitement, I knew that they would never forget the atrocities of this period in our world history. That alone should give us all hope for a more peaceful future.

Andrea Bell-Myers is a teacher at Brass Community School.