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North Hills Monthly

Seneca Valley Holds Holocaust Immersion Day to Make History Real for Students

Dec 31, 2019 11:31AM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Zeke Stroupe with his class

It can be difficult to make history come to life for students, particularly when it doesn’t seem to touch their own lives. At Ryan Gloyer Middle School (RGMS) in the Seneca Valley School District, teachers recently hosted Holocaust Immersion Day to allow students “living experiences.”

The idea for the project came after Gifted Support teacher Zeke Stroupe traveled in Europe over the summer with Classroom Without Borders (CWB).

“After my trip and the Tree of Life shooting last year, I felt it was very important to educate our students about the past. With all content areas involved, we wanted to make it possible for the students to have a personal encounter with history,” Stroupe said.

Combining several subject areas, students were able to compare their lunches to the rations given to Jewish ghetto residents. They kept a food journal in math; learned how to convert measurements in science; studied the political climate during World War II in civics; and analyzed findings by writing found poems based on literature from the time period. To further enhance the experience, the library was transformed into a Holocaust museum, and Stroupe shared his CWB experience with students.

The program reached its goal of making history real for the students.

“The most meaningful project was the script we wrote from diaries of kids our age in ghettos or concentration camps. It was interesting because I got to see what it was like as a teenager in the time of the Holocaust,” said eighth-grader Paityn Armstrong of the found poem assignment. “I could relate to some of their feelings and emotions at times, which made the project more meaningful to me.”

The project didn’t last only one day; the school also collected more than 600 items for the Evans City Food Bank. Other ongoing projects include a unit on the Tree of Life shooting where students learn about hate crimes and brainstorm on how to eliminate those factors in their own communities. The Community Grown project is another ongoing lesson.

“This is a new initiative where each team in our middle school is assigned a municipality that makes up our district, and our goal is to work with them to benefit the community,” said Stroupe. “We will use this unit as the springboard to continue projects that students help to develop and execute.”

According to eighth-grade student Lihini Ranaweera, the event was a success.

“Now that I have a much more comprehensive understanding of the events that occurred in history, there’s a profound sense of surrealness that I have, and I don’t think it’ll go away,” she said.