Learning about History, Hate and Hope

by Angela Hartman, Hutto High School, Hutto ISD

Didn’t we all fall in love with Roald Dahl’s character, Matilda Wormword? We were thrilled when her librarian, Mrs. Phelps and her teacher, Miss Honey, took her under their wings and we rooted for her against the awful Miss Trunchbull. Roald Dahl is known for his use of naughty characters, but he is also known for fighting for the underdog. The American Association of School Librarians and Penguin Random House annually present the Roald Dahl Miss Honey Social Justice Award. The award “recognizes and encourages collaboration between school librarians and teachers in teaching social justice using school library resources.” In June of 2015, I accepted that award at the ALA Conference in San Francisco.

English III teachers at Hutto High School and I collaborated to teach the research process, the history of World War II and the Holocaust. Each student chose a topic. Students from all classes worked in the library every day for several weeks in class and beyond.
During the first class periods in the library, I talked with students about what I learned at an intensive conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I told them honestly that I was just learning about the Holocaust too. Students were extremely attentive as I spoke about this heartbreaking history. We discussed forced labor camps and death camps. I told them about mass deportations in train cars in which people did not know where they were going, the separation of families upon arrival by those who were physically able to work and those who were not. I showed images of a train car and the “beds” used in camps. We talked about the lack of food, lack of sanitation, lack of medical care, lack of humanity and so often, the lack of hope. We examined the meaning of genocide.

Thanks to a grant from the Hutto Education Foundation, I was able to bring in speakers to talk about the Holocaust and genocide. Gilbert Tuhabonye, a survivor of the genocide in Burundi and Max Glauben, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, five forced labor camps and a death march gave personal stories. Gregg Philipson from the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, spent several days speaking in the HHS Library to English and History classes about the history of the Holocaust. He brought artifacts to share including a piece of lost luggage, maps and historic newspaper articles. Our art teachers got involved by having students create dioramas that illustrated scenes from Auschwitz. On the evening of January 27, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we hosted an International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Student art was displayed that evening. Over 700 people attended, including hundreds of students who came to hear Max Glauben, Holocaust survivor, speak.

When we began the research project, thirty new Chromebooks had just arrived at the library. We taught students how to use the Chromebooks and reminded them how to access information and primary sources using the library's digital resources. We used the library book collection relating to World War II, the Holocaust and genocide. We watched students choose a book on a topic, start browsing the book and then get engrossed in it. Several students changed topics when they found one they had not previously known about. The teachers and I spent time with students individually, helping narrow broad topics and checking for understanding. Although the Chromebooks were new and exciting, the books from the collection were used just as much as the technology.

Remembering how this project inspired enthusiasm and strong effort while motivating concern for social justice – this kind of project could have strong effect on any campus. Many teens are easily interested in making the world a better place – offer them the knowledge and tools to do exactly that.

This award confirms that librarians are teachers. We always have been; we always will be. I enjoy the collaboration, the exchanging of ideas and resources with teachers and the chance to get to work with students on topics that are so big and so important. The extended time in the library with these students allowed me to get to know them better and to build relationships. I am very grateful to AASL and Penguin Random House for this honor and for the $5000.00 of books for the Hutto High School Library.

Although the grant from the Hutto Education Foundation funded the Holocaust education program for only the previous school year, I will continue to teach and to collaborate with other teachers to deepen understanding about this significant event and to keep the history of the Holocaust alive. I will also continue to make connections to events in the world today and to encourage students to stand up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves. Miss Honey stood for Social Justice, as do school librarians everywhere. I’m honored to carry this AASL torch forward in my school, district and state – as a teacher and as a librarian.

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