First-place win for reflections to Holocaust novel in art, poetry
SHELBURNE—Sixth-grade students at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School have just won the 2014 Charles A. Hildebrandt Holocaust and Genocide Studies Award for Middle School Students, held annually at Keene State College.
Seventeen students participating in teacher Jacqui Goodman’s spring unit on the Holocaust and genocide had submitted a class project, “Remember,” which consisted of their reflections of a class reading of area author Jane Yolen’s historical fiction novel “The Devil’s Arithmetic.”
The award honors Charles Hildebrandt, Keene State College’s professor emeritus in sociology, and founder, in 1983, of its Holocaust Resource Center. The award is given in recognition of excellence in Holo-caust or genocide studies.
An award ceremony was scheduled Sunday, April 27, at 7 p.m. The center invited winners and their guests to a reception at 5 p.m.
Presentations are given by the award-winning participants, and monetary and book awards are granted. BSE’s cash award is $100, which will be mailed to the school.
Entries, judged by committee, were evaluated on their depth of vision, insight, creativity, originality, and technical ability. BSE entered in the category for grades 5-8.
Reached in Seattle, where she was visiting one of her daughters on April break, Ms. Goodman told The BSE Flow, “What I’ve known about BSE sixth graders is that they’re creative thinkers who love learning about places beyond Shelburne Falls and human experiences beyond their own.”
She said her students, having read “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” “seemed deeply affected by the story and then wanted to do something about what they’d learned.
“I’m thrilled that they moved beyond a school assignment (reading the book) to wanting to share something with the larger community (recognizing Holocaust Remembrance Day was completely student-generated). Their activism bodes well for our future,” she said.
She described the project as a large display, backed by burlap, of students’ “reflections” in art and poetry to pages of Yolen’s award-winning novel.
The class also planned to hand out brochures they’ve made to passersby in Shelburne Falls on the occasion of the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, on Monday, April 28, the day students returned from their spring vacation.
Students also have prepared a 12-foot banner reading, “Remember” that Ms. Goodman was working on displaying downtown. She said she hoped to find a business owner who will donate wall space.
As described by its publisher, Puffin Modern Classics, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” follows Hannah, a Jewish girl living in New Rochelle, N.Y.:
“During a Passover Seder, Hannah is transported back in time to 1942 Poland, during World War II, where she is sent to a death camp thought to be Auschwitz and learns the importance of knowing about the past,” promotional copy reads.
The Seder is a ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover, which commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt.
Passover began this year on the evening of April 14, and ended the evening of April 22.
“The Devil’s Arithmetic” was nominated for the Nebula Award for best novella in 1988 and won the National Jewish Book Award for children’s literature in 1989.
Art flowed from art
Days before learning her class had won the award, Ms. Goodman told The BSE Flow that her predecessor, Larry Wells, routinely assigned “The Devil’s Arithmetic” for sixth-grade reading and discussion on the strength of its clarity and accessibility for the age group. “When he retired and I moved into his place I thought I’d give it a shot, and it’s been incredible,” she said.
As for the resulting project that landed her students the Hildebrandt Award, Ms. Goodman said she’d discovered the “reflections” technique in an exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. She said she thought her students might try their hand at it.
The class project was shepherded to Keene State College by Maggid David Arfa, father of one of Ms. Goodman’s students, and a storyteller and environmental educator. Mr. Arfa’s storytelling performance, “The Jar of Tears: A Memorial for the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto,” won the 2009 Hildebrandt Award in honor of its artistic excellence, depth of vision, and technical mastery.