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Local Students Tour Holocaust Memorial, Learn Importance of Social Justice

Pictured are local students from multiple schools in Chautauqua County at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C. Submitted photos

Recently, 96 students and teachers from multiple schools in Chautauqua County traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn more about the Holocaust and the importance of social justice.

The three-day trip, which included students and teachers from Jamestown Public Schools, Chautauqua Lake Central School, Dunkirk City School, Brocton Central School, Silver Creek Central School and Pine Valley Central School, was sponsored by the Holocaust and Social Justice Education Program of Chautauqua County.

The mission of the program, which is funded and supported by the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua County and led by Dr. Larry Cohen, is to extend Holocaust and social justice education throughout Chautauqua County. The program provides a student symposium, a distinguished speaker series and teacher workshops, along with various programming and materials over the course of the year. The Holocaust and Social Justice Education Program of Chautauqua County is directed by Leigh-Anne Hendrick and Emily Dorman, who are both teachers at Chautauqua Lake Central School.

“We invest in these students because they are the difference makers, they are the next generation of leaders and we need to encourage them to find their voice,” Hendrick said. “We want to empower them to take part in their communities and promote respect, empathy and inclusion with our shared humanity.”

The students selected for this year’s trip were chosen as a result of their social justice and Holocaust studies throughout the year. Upon arrival in the nation’s capital, students were welcomed by Chautauqua Institution President Michael Hill, before touring the Museum of African American History and Culture.

Pictured are local students from multiple schools in Chautauqua County at the Lincoln Memorial during a recent trip.

According to Hendrick, the students were “particularly impacted” by the “Emmett Till” exhibit, which highlighted the personal nature of social justice in an “eye-opening way.”

“This trip is nothing short of extraordinary in terms of teaching our students the importance of advocacy, being an up-stander, but most importantly how their choices can influence others in ways they may never dream,” Jessica Kardashian, a Silver Creek teacher and program advocacy consultant, said. “Our students are not only learning in the classroom but are bearing witness to the atrocities committed by others and immersed in an experience that allows them to understand the importance of ‘Never Forget.'”

The “cornerstone” of the trip for the students and teachers was a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. After studying the Holocaust in great detail throughout the year, students were given the opportunity to tour the memorial and reflect on their “emotional visit.” When asked about the lessons they learned from the experience, one student said, “We can learn from our past mistakes, and as a group, change our mindset to be more loving and accepting of all people.”

Following tours of other monuments and the Smithsonian, Alex Zapruder, author of “Salvaged Pages,” spoke to the students regarding the importance of young people contributing to the study and understanding of history.

“It is the hope of the teachers and congregation members that made this trip possible that these students will go forth in their important work; that of making a difference, and in doing better than those that came before them,” Dorman said.

Cohen described the group of students and teachers on this year’s trip as “most impressive,” based on the “solemnity and intensity” of the participants’ interest in exploring history and social justice.

“The enthusiasm and caring of their teachers was clear,” he said. “The Hebrew Congregation is proud of this program and hopes to continue for years to come.”

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