On Saturday, January 11, two Fegely Middle School English teachers, Mrs. Mindy Malaski and Mrs. Lisa Norman, took a group of 50 PreAP students to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois.
But the story doesn’t start there… For the past six years years, all three sixth grade English teachers at Fegely have read the Young Hoosier Book Award Nominee Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy to their classes. This inspiring piece tells the story of a child survivor of the Lodz Ghetto. Each year, students’ interests are piqued by the story of Syvia Perlmutter. And each year, these three teachers try to figure out a way to take the students to the Illinois Holocaust Museum—only to be thwarted by the cost and distance.
Unable to figure out a way to take this trip on a school day, two teachers decided to write a PTEF grant to provide this experience for their PreAP classes. The Portage Township Education Foundation (PTEF) hosts an annual grant campaign as a way to support Portage teachers to provide amazing out-of-the-box experiences for their students. We were also wrote a successful grant from the museum to help cover our admission costs, allowing those dollars to return to the PTEF.
Our students missed games, practices, and family events to attend. We were blessed by parent and teacher chaperones. In addition to the kindness of parents, Fegely teachers Mrs. Dessa Kelley, Ms. Jenelle Meiss, and Mrs. Natalie Lucas volunteered to chaperone this Saturday trip, too.
One of the main draws to this opportunity is that the students get to hear from a survivor. The museum arranged for a survivor to tell her story to our group. Our speaker told her story of living as a hidden child during the Holocaust. She told many stories how she and her mother both survived this time. After she told her story, she made herself available to answer questions from our students. They said, “I still see her doll, her book, and loved hearing her story; it was both powerful and emotional.” She taught us to treasure our belongings, family, and memories, and that we should not take our freedom for granted.
Additionally, the museum arranges for student tours to be led by docents who are survivors, descended from survivors, or generally knowledgeable about the Holocaust. Students learned from the artifacts in the museum. They learned from the personal stories from their docent and the survivor. They learned from the questions their peers asked. Our students said, “The trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center was a life changing experience.”
Students took away many great ideas from this field trip. Here are some of the best quotes that they brought home with them. “Keep Calm and Carry On.” No matter what is going on you need to keep moving forward. Our message from our survivor story was, “Treasure your freedom.” And overall, the message of the program was “Now it is up to you.” We are in charge of our lives and our destinies. We will never let this happen again. We are hopeful for a bright future. Again, we will be forever grateful for this amazing field trip.
In the future, we would love to be able to plan a similar experience for ALL of our sixth grade students.