By Shawn Kirkpatrick
Anne Frank and today’s genocide across the world – that’s why two Opelika Middle School teachers applied and were chosen for The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) advanced seminar, held during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.
“I use to teach 8th grade and we always did Anne Frank and through teaching the play I wanted to build some more background information. It’s a heavy topic and I wanted to make sure I did it properly and correctly,” said Kate Gholston, a 6th grade language/arts teacher at OMS.
“I moved up from the intermediate school six years ago and I didn’t have a background in this topic at all. I really didn’t feel comfortable teaching it to my kids. Kate introduced me to the Holocaust Center in Birmingham and I got involved,” said Tricia Skelton, a fellow 6th grade language, arts and history teacher at OMS.
“Now in today’s world with Syria and all these other places experiencing genocide it is so prevalent.“
The JFR selected 22 middle and high school teachers from Alabama and seven other states to participate in its advanced seminar, an intensive three-day academic program that explored a number of topics addressing the history of the Holocaust.
The two say the seminars focused on the why and how, not with the Nazi soldiers as much, but the community that turned on their own. “Personally it’s frightening how quickly a neighbor can turn on a neighbor and prejudice builds. As a history teacher you can tie that into Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement in our own country, there are so many connections you can make,” Kate said.
Both teachers say most students only knowledge of the Holocaust is through Anne Frank’s story. But they are eager to learn about World War II. “It is a fascinating time period to study. There was a POW camp in Opelika. Even this small community in Alabama has ties to it,” Gholston said. “With the 6th graders we are looking at those that stepped up and helped looking at the role of the collaborator verses the rescuer, and what makes somebody face danger and do the right thing.”
Skelton explained how she wants her students to be able to relate to the topic by bringing the subject to their level. “Bullying is so prevalent these days. For the 6th graders, if you see it what are you going to do about it, are you going to say something? Now the students know and can make better connections and be better citizens and better people. That’s how I look at it. What can we do to make sure things like this don’t happen,” Skelton said.
Right now both teachers are saving for a conference on the Holocaust this summer in Amsterdam, Poland and Frankfurt. It will be led by Peter Hayes, the author of 12 books, specializing in the histories of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, as well as the conduct of the nation’s largest corporations during the Third Reich.
If you’d like to sponsor the teachers’ trip to the conference, email them at Patricia.email@example.com or Kathryn.firstname.lastname@example.org.