- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) - Each summer, when Ron Skillern teaches a course about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, he finds the best teaching moments come when he asks students to tell a story through a mural.

“It’s almost like you step into that time in history or the images that are on it,” he said, stressing that the exercise requires students to think about history in a different way. “There’s a learning process that the kids will never forget.”

Gifted students have been creating the murals as part of Western Kentucky University’s Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth since the mid-1990s.

Now, following a $72,000 grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, the collection will tour Kentucky, going to Louisville, Danville and Bowling Green. The grant is helping create a new partnership between WKU’s Center for Gifted Studies, The Kentucky Center for Performing Arts and Kentucky Educational Television.

Along with the touring exhibit, a companion curriculum with lesson plans and teacher resources will also be developed by Holocaust educators selected by the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, according to an announcement from the Center for Gifted Studies.

KET will also visit campus this summer to document the process students will use to create the collection’s 20th mural.

“I think it gives the kids a much better understanding,” Skillern said of the murals in the “Never Again” exhibit.

The murals have explored personal stories students have learned about during Skillern’s “Nazi Germany and the Holocaust” summer course. Anne Frank, a famous diarist and victim of the Holocaust, is one such example.

During his three-week course, Skillern teaches about the rise and fall of the Nazi party and contemporary examples of racial discrimination by white supremacist groups. The class includes a trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where Skillern said students see crematorium doors and Nazi banners.

But for Skillern, the mural exercise stands out for the amount of teaching moments it provides. Students will often bring different ideas to a single mural, Skillern said, creating conflict and an opportunity for resolution.

“Many times we get to an impasse, and I use that as a teaching moment,” he said.

Skillern, a teacher with more than three decades of experience, has been teaching the summer course since 1992. He teaches regularly at Bowling Green High School and was recently named the 2017 Kentucky teacher of the year and inducted into the state’s teacher hall of fame.

The learning opportunities Skillern provides are just a few that VAMPY students have a chance to experience each summer. The program for gifted seventh- through 10th-graders is entering its 34th summer this year. A list of classes, applications and more information is available at www.wku.edu/gifted/vampy.

“They have opportunities to be with others who are equally interested in learning and they form some lifelong friendships,” said Julia Roberts, executive director of the Center for Gifted Studies and the Gatton Academy.

Roberts said students take one class for six hours a day with a one-hour study hall in the evening. Students also experience living in a residence hall and social activities.

“It’s kind of like a little slice of college,” Skillern said. “It’s a way for them to come to a place where they can be smart and not have to be shy about that.”

Resources inspired by the exhibit will be available online by KET using PBS LearningMedia, which is used by teachers in Kentucky and across the nation.

Resources will be disseminated online by KET using PBS LearningMedia, which is used by teachers throughout Kentucky, as well as nationally.

Tonya Crum, KET’s senior director for education, said the curriculum and video will enhance the online resource.

“We look forward to sharing the impressive work of these students across the state,” she said in a news release. “The murals and the history behind them will provide engaging and thought-provoking classroom content for educators as part of our PBS LearningMedia repository.”

Jeffrey Jamner, a second generation Holocaust survivor, is the senior director of education and community arts for the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts.

“We are thrilled that the messages communicated in these extraordinary murals will now reach a much broader audience throughout our state,” he said in the release. “The VAMPY murals exemplify the power of the arts in deepening student engagement and learning, and providing more ways for them to demonstrate and express their understandings. This partnership, funded by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, brings together the unique strengths of three great institutions, resulting in even greater collective impact.”

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Information from: Daily News, http://www.bgdailynews.com

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