South Orangetown Central School District

“The Holocaust teaches us about the worst of humanity and also humanity at its finest. We learn from history,” explained Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education educator Linda Suss to Jennifer Grennan’s fourth-grade class this morning.

Suss, along with fellow HMCTE educators Dina Daniels and Sally Kagan, met with Cottage Lane Elementary School’s fourth grade classes today as part of their current ELA unit. Over the past week, students have read picture books “The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark” by Carmen Agra Deedy and “The Whispering Town” by Jennifer Elvgren and have begun a study of Lois Lowry’s Newbury Medal-winning novel, “Number the Stars.”

HMCTE educators introduced the concept of “moral courage”–“when you take a risk you do not have to take”–and asked students to reflect on the books they have read, which are set during the Holocaust. The educators noted that those who had demonstrated moral courage and risked their lives are called “the Righteous Among Nations.”

Fourth-graders were highly engaged in the discussion and eager to point out their observations:

“In ‘The Whispering Town,’ the whole town came together to help Jews escape.”

“People in the town had to trust each other to save people’s lives.”

“They were willing to risk their lives because they knew that even if they died, they had helped as much as they could.”

Through a series of interactive exercises, students were encouraged to reflect on moral courage in a variety of scenarios. “This visit is really important because the additional insight and information from experts on this topic mirror what we are teaching in the classroom and magnify the importance of this time period,” Grennan noted. “It extends learning beyond history so that students can take their thinking about moral courage and apply it to their own lives today.”

HMCTE educators met with CLE teachers last week in preparation for today’s lesson, as a follow-up to the District’s Social Studies Leadership Team meeting visit to the HMCTE in December. “The Leadership Team meeting provided an opportunity to develop a partnership with HMCTE and connect our fourth-grade ELA unit with moral courage and character education and make it relevant for our students,” said Principal Karen Ramirez.

Today’s lesson at CLE was the first in a series of curriculum-aligned events planned for this year. South Orangetown Middle School eighth-graders and Tappan Zee High School tenth-graders will travel to the museum this spring to enrich multidisciplinary studies of the Holocaust and World War II.

“Eighth-grade social studies will cover the Holocaust during our World War II unit. We use primary sources such as an excerpt from Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night,’ as well as accounts of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and many other primary sources. ELA classes focus on the Holocaust by reading ‘The Diary of Anne Frank.’ The museum will help bring the topic to life for the students,” SOMS Eighth Grade Social Studies Chair Ron Scherer reported. “It also has a huge impact on our character education program. The themes and concepts covered in this trip such as moral courage, responsibility, and tolerance are constantly reinforced here at SOMS. The experience from this trip will transcend all subject areas and help to bring new understanding of the importance of creating and maintaining a positive and inclusive learning environment where all students feel safe, welcomed and accepted.”

“As part of the tenth-grade World History curriculum, students analyze the events of the Holocaust as well as the actions and inactions that led to the horrific events. In addition, we examine the implications in the aftermath as we are constantly looking to make connections to other events. The visit is even more timely given the tragedy currently unfolding in Ukraine,” said TZHS Social Studies Team Leader Scott Silver.

Pictured: HMCTE educators with CLE students in Jennifer Grennan’s and Christopher Viola and Camille Viola’s fourth-grade classes.

HMCTE educator Linda Suss discusses "moral courage" with CLE fourth-graders