Capstone Trip

Holocaust And Social Justice Program Visits Washington, D.C.

Area high school students and teachers in the Holocaust and Social Justice Program of Chautauqua County are pictured at the Lincoln Memorial.

Students from eight area schools recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to cap the Holocaust and Social Justice Program of Chautauqua County.

In the early morning hours of March 8, a bus departed from Chautauqua Lake High School carrying 50 students and teachers from Chautauqua Lake, Pine Valley, Jamestown, Silver Creek, Sherman, Brocton, Clymer and Forestville schools.

The Holocaust and Social Justice Program is run by Leigh Anne Hendrick and Emily Dorman, Chautauqua Lake High School teachers.

“This unique county-wide program continues to have a significant and lasting impact on our students and teachers,” Hendrick said. “Each year we are empowering students and teachers to become active allies, advocates and agents of change in their communities. It’s pretty amazing.”

Upon arriving in Washington, D.C., the group proceeded to the Capitol Building, where they were met by U.S. Rep. Nick Langworthy. Students asked the congressman about policy, philosophy and logistics on Capitol Hill. When asked about something he was particularly proud of, Langworthy spoke about the legislation passed to increase standards for pilot training after the crash of flight 3407 in Clarence. After a discussion on the Capitol steps, the group was given a tour of the Capitol Building before proceeding to the Library of Congress.

Area high school students and teachers in the Holocaust and Social Justice Program of Chautauqua County are pictured on the U.S. Capitol steps with U.S. Rep. Nick Langworthy Submitted photo

The second day of the trip began with a tour of the White House – the first time the program has toured the White House.

“The best type of learning doesn’t always take place in a classroom,” said Jessica Kardashian, a Silver Creek teacher who organized the experience. “First hand visits to museums, monuments, listening to speakers, testimonies, being able to touch, smell and feel places are experiences that don’t just inspire you, but push you to see your own power and to create a world that’s better than you found it.”

From there, the group proceeded through the National Mall, and to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where they spent the remainder of the afternoon.

“As I first entered the exhibits, and walking through the rail car, I experienced a palpable and gut-wrenching connection to the history and grief experienced by people of the past and present,” said Greg Cross, Sherman history teacher.

The students wandered through the permanent exhibit, absorbing the history and trauma of this time at their own pace. During reflection after the visit, many students pointed to the impact that viewing tangible artifacts of the Holocaust had on them.

“The pictures of communities and families really had the greatest impact on me because so many of these people never got to live the life they deserved,” said Autumn Rice, Silver Creek student.

“When I was walking through the Holocaust Museum, it was very challenging to breathe regularly … seeing everything that happened to any groups that the Nazis felt were inferior was horrible. It just made me so upset – I didn’t know many of the things that I learned in the museum, and it made me really look at the treatment of people differently,” said Madeline Woodruff, a Jamestown High School student.

After finishing Saturday night with a night tour of the monuments, participants began their Sunday morning by listening to Maureen Rovegno, former director of religion at Chautauqua Institution. Rovegno encouraged students to forgive, saying that “reconciliation heals harm, but forgiveness heals us.”

Brocton teacher Collin Mulcahy said Rovegno’s message resonated with him.

“(This has) inspired me to let go of the fear, let go of the past, and seek out the good in people,” he said.

Mulcahy wasn’t the only member of the group who heard a message of forgiveness.

“We are privileged,” said Chautauqua Lake student Lydia Kushmaul. “That can lead to shame, or guilt, and that is okay, and I think even important. But what’s more important is what we do with those feelings – we need to take them and channel our anger and shame into doing whatever we can to ensure future generations do not feel them on behalf of we do, or, more importantly, what we didn’t do.”

The group closed out their trip at the United States Museum of African American History and Culture. When asked about the words that came to mind after their time in the museum, students said they felt “empowered”, “overwhelmed”, “guilty” and “motivated.” Students were struck by the physical artifacts of slavery and injustice, as well as the images of rising above overwhelming opposition.

“I’m astonished by the persistence to make a way when there seems like there is none,” said Jamestown teacher Betsy Rowe-Baehr. “In both museums, communities keep on. They establish schools, banks, newspapers, churches with no resources other than one another. As they make progress, another obstacle or evil force prevents it from growing. “But even though…” movements and leaders find a reason to keep trying and testing to get up and do. I love learning how the unsung heroes who use their resources or gifts to help others. Bethune, Baldwin, Run DMC – farmers, fisherman, families who put aside self and live out the highest of ideals.”

Both the Holocaust and Social Justice Program of Chautauqua County program and the trip to Washington D.C., are sponsored by the Hebrew Congregation of Chautauqua. The trip is a capstone of year-long studies, including a fall workshop for teachers, a meet-and-greet for participating students and teachers, and a student symposium after the trip to culminate their experiences, learning and reflection. The program serves all teachers and students of Chautauqua County.

“This trip and this program serves the humanity in our students and teachers,” Dorman said. “We are surrounded by incredible people daring each other to think and to be better, and it is these shared experiences that allow us to march forward in making equality, justice, and inherent respect for one another tangible and possible.”

For more information about this program, visit www.chqsocialjustice.org.


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