Grace Weatherford talks about “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” a novel about a Jewish girl living in New York who is sent back in time to experience the Holocaust. Coupeville eighth graders held a book exhibit event Monday to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Grace Weatherford talks about “The Devil’s Arithmetic,” a novel about a Jewish girl living in New York who is sent back in time to experience the Holocaust. Coupeville eighth graders held a book exhibit event Monday to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Coupeville teacher takes a novel approach to Holocaust lesson planning

Coupeville eighth grader Jones Walther recognizes that it’s easy to remove oneself from a tragedy as immense and seemingly distant as the Holocaust. But she and others in her class at Coupeville Middle School set out to demonstrate that the lessons about the historical event continue to be relevant.

“I didn’t know that other genocides had happened since,” Walther said.

“But it has happened since, and it’s important to learn about it and make sure it doesn’t happen ever again,” she later added.

Monday morning, Walther stood among her peers in the middle school performing arts center in front of a tri-fold display describing the graphic novel “Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale: And Here My Troubles Began,” in which the author depicts stories from his father, who was a Jewish Holocaust survivor.

Coupeville Middle School eighth graders have spent the past few months of English class in different book groups reading historical fiction about the Holocaust and researching the event. On Monday, the groups shared displays that illustrated the lessons they learned and answered questions from passing visitors during the book exhibit.

This showcase of students’ work was supposed to take place on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, said Casie Dunleavy, English and language arts teacher. But snow days pushed the event back.

The state Legislature agrees with Walther’s analysis about the importance of continuing to learn about the state-sponsored killing and persecution of Jewish people and other minorities. Last session, both chambers unanimously approved a bill to encourage districts to teach about the Holocaust and use best practices created by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in cooperation with an expert nonprofit organization.

Dunleavy learned about some of these best practices at a Holocaust Center for Humanity workshop in Seattle. The nonprofit focuses on teaching the history of the systematic genocide under Adolf Hitler in order “to fight hate by educating students, teachers and the general public about the dangers of intolerance and the difference each one of us can make,” according to its website.

Eighth grader Andrew Williams explains the book “Resistance” to a visitor at Monday’s Holocaust Remembrance Book Exhibit at Coupeville Middle School. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Eighth grader Andrew Williams explains the book “Resistance” to a visitor at Monday’s Holocaust Remembrance Book Exhibit at Coupeville Middle School. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Dunleavy kept in communication with the center and eventually shared her idea for an exhibit in which students would share lessons learned from the novels they read about the Holocaust.

Staff members from the center liked the idea so much that it will likely become a model for other school districts the nonprofit works with, according to Paul Regelbrugge, professional development and curriculum counselor at the center.

He attended the event and helped introduce the exhibits alongside the eighth-grade speakers. A videographer from the center took footage of the exhibit and students that will be shown at the center’s annual fundraiser as an example of work the nonprofit supports.

The book groups read novels such as “The Book Thief,” “The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas” and “The Devil’s Arithmetic.”

William Davidson and Andrew Williams were among the group who read “Resistance,” a 2018 novel about a Jewish teenager living in Nazi-occupied Poland who joins a resistance movement. The story is fiction, but real events like the Warsaw Uprising create the setting.

Davidson said he learned that it’s “not always the biggest things that make a big difference.” Williams added that the book describes the major impacts small gestures, such as a British broadcast of support for the Polish underground or a piece of smuggled bread, can make.

Middle school is a good time to impart lessons about the positive ripple effects of kindness and negative ones of prejudice and complacency, Regelbrugge said. Middle and high school represent a good age to impress upon the younger generation that harassment and bullying are where larger atrocities can begin, he said.

Early education is how the organization hopes to “check hatred” and make the world a little better place to live, he said.

Dunleavy was proud of how the students took ownership of their learning and became the teachers for this unit, she said.

“The lessons of the holocaust have really hit home,” she said of the eighth graders, “which is really the most meaningful part of why we read.”

More in Life

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Brittany Darby helps raise a wall at Habitat for Humanity of Island County’s two townhomes on Southeast 10th Avenue in Oak Harbor during the Women Build event Saturday.
Women Build: Lending some muscle to Habitat for Humanity

Forty women and some men volunteered for Habitat’s Women Build 2021 event this past weekend.

Members of the public and Whidbey Island Rocks are encouraged to paint and hide stones with Garry oak designs or other local flora and fauna this week in preparation for a hunt Saturday. Photo by Jane Geddes
Island rock hunt celebrates Oak Harbor ‘Year of the Oak’

Whidbey Island Rocks is encouraging people to paint stones with Garry oaks before a hunt Saturday.

Photo provided
The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron, also known as America’s Boating Club of Deception Pass, hosts jamborees and other social events, along with boater safety and education classes.
Whidbey boaters promote safety, education

The Deception Pass Sail and Power Squadron hosts education and safety classes, and social events.

Michael Nichols, owner of Whidbey Green Goods, stands in his hoop house, also known as “The Hovel.” Customers visit the Clinton farm to pick up their own produce and plant starts. (Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group)
One-man Whidbey Island farm gears up for spring

The pandemic has brought a longtime farmer out of retirement.

Master Gardener Don Krafft gathers some broccoli in his garden plot at South Whidbey Tilth. He grows several things that are available for purchase at the Island County Master Gardener online plant sale. (Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record)
Master Gardeners kick off plant sale, continue clincs

Green thumbs who have had a taste of spring sunshine and want to begin planting can do so with the help of the Island County Master Gardeners.

Photo provided
Stella Rowan, left, Savannah Mounce and Luna Grove, right, get together for swims and photoshoots like this one at Deception Pass State Park. The trio of two mermaids and a self-described “heavy metal selkie” call themselves the Whidbey Island Sirens.
Whidbey Island Sirens making quite a splash

The trio will be at Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor this Saturday.

Frances Schultz, holding a picture of her younger self, recently turned 100 years old. Her daughter, Connie Van Dyke, right, said her mother’s photo looks like one of actress Barbara Stanwyck. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
At 100, Oak Harbor woman reflects on busy life

Frances Schultz turned 100 years old on March 30.

Joel Atienza’s uniform’s USAF/USSF patches prior to transfer. Photo provided
Oak Harbor 2010 grad selected for U.S. Space Force

Joel Atienza’s advice to Space Force hopefuls? “Remember, ‘The sky is not the limit.’”

The Oystercatcher’s owner and chef, Tyler Hansen, prepares a dozen 3 Sisters beef bolognese lasagnas to go on the shelves at 3 Sisters Market. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Chef liaises with other business owners

A Coupeville chef has expanded his partnership with local business owners to… Continue reading

Joe Gunn holding a freshly backed rhubarb pie. (Photo by Harry Anderson)
How a pie on the Rock became a brand and legend

Whidbey Pies is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

Color Guard Capt. Mike Hutchins, at left, and John Kraft present the Sons of the American Revolution Bronze Good Citizenship Medal to Bobbi Lornson, center. (Photo by Teresa Addison)
Oak Harbor woman awarded ‘Good Citizenship’ medal

Bobbi Lornson, past president of the Oak Harbor Lions Club president and volunteer, was recently recognized for her contributions to the community.

Tim Leonard, owner of the Machine Shop in Langley, hangs a purple neon star he made on the wall of his arcade. Photo by Kira Erickson/Whidbey News Group
Neon art show colorizes Machine Shop’s reopening

A cacophony of happy buzzers and bells and a riot of glowing… Continue reading