By Mary Pat Higgins
People often ask me about the purpose of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, and I’m quick to respond that we teach the importance of standing up to counter hatred and prejudice.
Shaping minds and positively affecting behavior is at the core of our mission.
With all that is happening in the world today, including the strong emotions and rhetoric raised by the 2016 Presidential Election, our work is more important than ever.
Next week, the Museum, the Dallas Independent School District, and Jewish day schools from around the region will host the first-ever, privately-funded “City-Wide Read and Performance” at Fair Park Music Hall.
More than 12,300 students from 153 DISD Schools and local Jewish day schools—along with 500 educators—will engage with an innovative, interactive and creative Holocaust education program based on the book, The Children of Willesden Lane. The book tells the true story of a young Jewish girl who used her musical talent to find her way in her new home after escaping the Nazis as a passenger on the Kindertransport.
The unique “City-Wide Read and Performance” project began more than a year ago when the Museum discussed the idea with the book’s co-author, the concert pianist Mona Golabek. Similar programs produced amazing results in 20 cities across the U.S. with a total of 150,000 student participants. In Dallas, the program quickly gained traction through the generosity of a Dallas resident who cares deeply about children’s education and underwrote the project cost. That donation, which was a matching gift that attracted other donors’ generosity—along with the work and dedication of event co-chairs Helen Risch and Ynette Hogue—made this program a reality.
Last summer, the Museum’s education team provided age-appropriate Holocaust education training and curricula to 500 English, History, Art, and Performing Arts teachers, librarians and administrators.
Using a curriculum centered on the book and the history of the Holocaust and its lessons, educators teach about anti-Semitism, race, religion, morality, and courage in an age-appropriate manner. The book highlights topics that touch the lives of many children today, including overcoming adversity, growing up without one or both parents and experiencing prejudice. Following Texas Education Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements, the curriculum covers the geography of Europe, Hitler’s rise to power, the Kindertransport, and vocabulary including words such as “refugee,” “bystander,” and “identity.”
At the start of the school year, each DISD fifth grader received a complimentary copy of the book, excerpts of which they read during their Social Studies, English Language Arts and ESL classes. They were also encouraged to read with their families at home.
In October, students expressed their feelings about the book and the Holocaust in their art and performing arts classes.
From Monday to Wednesday of next week (November 14th to 16th), the project culminates with a performance by Mona Golabek. She will present a series of interactive concert performances for more than 12,300 students at the Music Hall.
Character education is at the core of the “City-Wide Read and Performance,” and this, in turn, impacts children’s emotional, moral and intellectual development. The program will yield huge dividends for the children in attendance, their families, and our communities.
Higher academic performance, improved attendance, reduced violence, fewer disciplinary issues, reduction in substance abuse, and less vandalism are reported as outcomes of a sustained focus upon character education.
Students have also reported feeling safer at schools in which they and their peers are taught the value of respect, responsibility, compassion and hard work. From a practical perspective, it’s simply easier to teach children how to exercise patience, self-control, and diligence.
We know from independent studies on the impact of a student’s visit to the Museum that if we can reach students at an early age, we can inspire them to become Upstanders—people who stand up and speak up for what is right, even if, at times, they stand alone.
Mary Pat Higgins is President & CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance. Email firstname.lastname@example.org