Touched by Tragedy Middle Schoolers' Art Reaches Back to Holocaust Victims and Shares Their Sorrow
Phelps, Bob, The Florida Times Union
Life in middle school is tough.
It's the beginning of the teen years, the earliest stages of
adulthood. It's a time of worry about self-image and what others
think, a time of great bodily changes, new body hair, skin
blemishes and psychological struggles. It's a time when young
people begin to wonder what will become of them in the scary,
strange world of adulthood.
Amid all this turmoil, can a boy or girl really take time and
spend energy to care about something that happened more than 50
years ago to people who lived an ocean away?
At Mandarin Middle School in Jacksonville, teachers Deborah
Hansen and Jill Keifer tried linking an art project to a
historic tragedy and found that, yes, middle school kids do
care, very deeply, when they learn about the Holocaust.
"Don't let it ever happen again."
"We will never forget."
"The hurt still lives."
Such words in broad brush strokes of acrylic paint were added
to painted images of candles, the Star of David, barbed wire,
broken hearts and other products of teenage imagination to
express messages of pain. The messages were painted on 8-inch
square ceramic tiles.
The resulting display on a plywood wall is called Tile of
Tears. It so moved members of the Jewish Community Alliance that
they are displaying it tomorrow through April 30 as part of
their annual observance of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust
Hansen teaches a class on conflict resolution and mediation in
which students learn how to come to grips with differences of
culture, opinions and religion without resorting to threats,
insults or violence. They also learn mediation techniques to use
with students who have those differences.
"In teaching this course, it seemed to me that whenever
prejudice and intolerance is thought of, we seem to focus on the
racial issues, and of course that's important, but I found that
in teaching history that children don't know anything about the
Holocaust," Hansen said.
Holocaust refers to the period of history that began in 1938,
with a reign of terror called Kristallnacht, and ended in 1945
with the Allied defeat of Germany. Historians say that during
the Holocaust, Nazis systematically killed 6 million Jewish men,
women and children, and about 5 million others including Slavic
people, Poles, Gypsies, the mentally ill and the mentally and
"The surprising thing is some of the kids who acted like they
were not listening, like they were not particularly interested,
when we gave them something like this tile to paint on, they
just opened up," Hansen said.
Julie Bolema, adult services director at the Jewish Community
Alliance, said the most moving tile she saw is a simple scene of
a tree with two swings suspended from a limb. …