Amidst a pandemic, a teacher and her students strive to learn about humanity.
Vicky Schauer, eighth- grade English and Language Arts teacher at Key Peninsula Middle School, is passionate about her final unit, Voices of the Holocaust. When school closed in March, she was faced with transforming this sensitive topic from a highly interactive curriculum into an online experience. And although she yearned for the richness of student-to-student connections in the classroom, she plucked victory from the jaws of despair.
“I love eighth-graders. They are the best people in the world.”
Schauer, whose students nominated her for the KP Lions’ Club Citizen of the Year Award for 2019 (ceremony still to be rescheduled), described herself as a “live teacher and technical dinosaur.” Confronted with how to translate this critical topic to an online format, she was overwhelmed. But she reached out to the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle and enrolled in their class to learn how to teach the material online.
“I feel ready academically for high school but not so much emotionally. I’m not exactly missing out, but I’m missing.”
With many hours of work and tremendous support from her principal, she created an online curriculum and shared it with colleagues. It is now being used in the Everett, Mukilteo and Shoreline school districts. Last week she was contacted by the Los Angeles Unified School District about using her work.
Schauer is using videos and written material from the National Holocaust Museum and profiles of survivors from Washington state. One part of the curriculum involves students “meeting” four survivors a week and then writing about a connection they made with one of them.
“The beauty of what they have written is incredible,” Schauer said, describing how her students responded to one survivor’s thoughts about the importance of family.
The students explore how to interpret visual material — pictures and political cartoons — in addition to text. And Schauer evaluates reading comprehension of both narrative and informational material to prepare her students for high school. At the end of the year, as part of the curriculum Schauer calls “Taking Action,” students will enter the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s annual contest.
“The beauty of what they have written is incredible.”
A silver lining to developing the online curriculum, Schauer said, was finding so much new material. She will incorporate it into her classroom plans when school reopens.
Schauer tracks student participation, noting when they check in and open the material. They submit work as documents or pictures, and she gives feedback quickly. But she also knows they miss the interactions they have with each other in the classroom. Although she does not feel comfortable enough with Zoom to hold a full classroom meeting, smaller groups meet using Google Hangouts.
She said that of her 118 students she has heard from all but twelve. She has referred them to the counseling staff, concerned that there are many factors that might lead to their absence.
Garynne Glasscock, an eighth-grader in the honors program, said of the distance learning, “It’s a lot different from what I was expecting.” For her regular classes it is working relatively well, but electives, especially band or choir, are a challenge. She said the Holocaust material has been good, and she has been getting great feedback. She likes being able to work at her own pace and without some of the distractions that come with a classroom full of students. But she misses the class interactions. “I feel ready academically for high school but not so much emotionally. I’m not exactly missing out, but I’m missing.”
Schauer has taught at KPMS for 18 years. She had a career in hospital marketing when, following 9/11, she felt a pull on her heartstrings. “I had always wanted to teach, so I went back to school and then came to KPMS, where my kids had gone.” She said. “I love eighth-graders. They are the best people in the world.”
The Holocaust Center for Humanity “Lunch and Learn” Zoom events are held each Tuesday at noon, free to the public and appropriate for families. www.holocaustcenterseattle.org