- Associated Press - Monday, October 31, 2016

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - When students do not learn from past mistakes, history can repeat itself. And unlike some historical events taught in school, the Holocaust is not ancient history. That’s why it’s important to teach students about the horror that is the Holocaust heavily, said Samantha Springs, eighth grade English teacher at Kimmons Jr. High School in Fort Smith.

Over the summer, Springs and Cindy Larkin, who also teaches eighth grade English at Kimmons, traveled to Washington, D.C., to complete intensive training on Holocaust history from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Belfer National Conference for Educators. There were 200 participants, according to a news release. Larkin and Springs applied for the program, and Kimmons paid for them to go, Springs said.

They learned from other teachers about different strategies of how to teach students about the Holocaust, she told the Southwest Times Record (https://bit.ly/2eQieBD ).

Larkin and Springs teach the play, “The Diary of Anne Frank” because the students are able to identify with a character who is around their age, Springs said.

“After the training, we bring in a lot more nonfiction and we go back to the actual diary itself and pull Anne’s own words and look a lot more at her personal experiences through her own eyes,” Springs said.

They also strive to show the students that Frank represents millions of other people and to teach them about the history and the circumstances surrounding her story - and that Frank was an exception because most people did not stay successfully hidden from the Nazis for nearly two years, Springs said.

Students are exposed to the Holocaust primarily in eighth grade English and in world history, which students usually take in 10th grade but can take in 11th or 12th grade instead, said Barry Owen, assistant superintendent for instructional services at Fort Smith Public Schools.

However, Springs said, “It’s very rare for us to encounter a student who’s come out of elementary with zero background with the Holocaust.”

Ninth grade student Alan Rosas took English with Larkin last year.

“We talked about how Hitler blamed Jews for what happened (in World War I),” he said.

Before eighth grade, Rosas knew what the Holocaust was and that it happened during World War II, but did not know the extent of the ways people were tortured and killed. He said it is important to learn these things so that history does not repeat itself.

“I wanted a visual for the kids to be able to get 6 million people that were killed,” Larkin said. “In their head, 6 million is just an arbitrary number. It doesn’t mean anything.”

In a 6-inch deep notebook, Larkin drew 6 million dots and shows the students the notebook so they can see page by page how many people were killed in the Holocaust.

She also does an activity with them where they write down three belongings they would grab if someone were to break in in the middle of the night.

“If they don’t have water or some form of liquid on their list, they’re not going to survive,” she said.

The students do a map activity to see how Hitler took over three countries before a shot was fired, she said.

How Hitler was able to do that with only political rhetoric and charisma can be difficult to fathom, Springs said.

Larkin said she usually spends five to seven weeks on the Holocaust during the spring semester. The entire semester is dedicated to lessons in tolerance, empathy and looking out for each other, which the Holocaust ties into because certain groups were persecuted.

In addition to various other texts, the students read parts of Anne Frank’s diary, which offers a perspective from outside the concentration camps, and “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which offers a perspective from inside a camp.

Michael Skaggs teaches Advanced Placement United States History to 11th and 12th graders and Advanced Placement World History to 10th, 11th and 12th graders at Greenwood High School. He typically spends a few days teaching students about the Holocaust as a part of World War II in World History and touches on it in U.S. History, he said. He would like to spend more time on it, but there is a lot of material to cover and he has to be sure to teach everything that will appear on the AP tests.

“Their biggest question is ‘Why?’” Skaggs said.

The students often cannot wrap their heads around why something like the Holocaust happened, he said. By high school, they usually come in with plenty of background knowledge because it’s a traumatic event that sticks with them once they’ve learned about it.

Skaggs works to make sure they know that many other groups were targeted and killed other than Jews, he said. He shows them visuals of some of the atrocities committed against them.

Because survivors are becoming few and far between, it’s important that people today know their stories and promote empathy, Larkin said.

“Who is going to be responsible for sharing this information and making sure it doesn’t happen again?” Springs said.

___

Information from: Southwest Times Record, https://www.swtimes.com/

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