Haverhill High School students will soon have the opportunity to attend a virtual, live tour of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, representatives from the school told school committee members last week.
According to history teacher Ted Kempinski, this educational tool will transform the way students learn about genocide all over the world, with Haverhill High being the first to test it.
“They can now tour Auschwitz from a live guide that will take them through Auschwitz. And they can ask questions, they can hear the stepping on the gravel, they can hear the wind blow, just like if they were there,” he said. “And students, of course, will experience that on the biggest screens we can provide, in a group together.”
According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s website, the guided tour will overlay museum materials—artworks, survivor testimonies, archival photos, documents and other multimedia materials—with live footage from the camp. A counselor will monitor the room in case a student needs help processing the information. It is planned to become a part of the existing ninth grade genocide curriculum, tying into their study of modern world history. Parents may have their children opt out.
“It’s the wrap-around curriculum—they’re learning beforehand, and it’s the post-experience—that’s so important. It’s how you connect it to the racism, and to the bias, and the terror today. Now, it’s very poignant because many people in the world do not know the Holocaust happened,” he said.
While this includes some Haverhill students, he said the learning and exercises that accompany the tour will help its existence sink in, become “an anchor point in their conscience,” as he put it in an interview with WHAV. Ninth grade teachers attended professional development sessions with two nationally recognized organizations, Facing History & Ourselves and Echoes & Reflections.
“What we’re hoping is that this is all going to come together into a capstone project for those ninth-grade students,” Haverhill High Dean of History John Craven said. “That capstone project will do what I think all good history does, which is connect to what is happening today, connect to other areas in history, or something that is happening in their lives.”
After attending a conference for educators at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, “New Technologies in Education about Auschwitz and the Holocaust,” this summer, Kempinski brought this idea back to the school. District Social Studies Coach Meghan DeLong told school committee members the school has found funding through a Genocide Education Grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. She said they applied for another to continue the work of developing a unit around the tour.