In the Gayle and Tom Benson Science and Technology Complex, students in Mrs. Claudia Vallejo’s Spanish IV AP class were discussing in English and Spanish the book, Turning Pages: My Life Story about Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and the impact of books on her from childhood to today. The first Latina Supreme Court Justice describes books as “lenses,” “teachers,” “mirrors of my own universe.” Reading books in Spanish and English remain the center of her personal development. She credits books for helping her to connect with her family in New York and Puerto Rico, dealing with the diagnosis of diabetes in her youth, and eventually bringing her to law books and the US Constitution – one of the most meaningful texts of her lifetime.
Joining the class via Skype from nearly 400 miles away was Laurie Garcia, Education Outreach Coordinator with Holocaust Museum Houston as part of the museum’s school and community outreach program – Educator in Motion. This school term marks the third year that Mrs. Vallejo’s classes have participated in the program. For this class, the students selected the ABC program, “All Behaviors Count: Stopping Hate. Starting Here.”
It examines the five forms of social cruelty – taunting, rumoring, exclusion, ganging up and bullying – and uses contemporary commercials, storytelling and poetry to highlight the negative impact these harmful behaviors can have on targeted individuals. Through guided discussions and interactive activities, students learn to identify and respond to social cruelty as empowered Upstanders and develop skills that will help them create positive, inclusive spaces for all.
“The Educator in Motion offers a unique opportunity to learn about relevant issues such as the Holocaust, genocide, social cruelty, and active citizenship in the school and in the community,” said Mrs. Vallejo. “It is unique because students are learning directly from the Holocaust Museum Houston. Students are exposed to very important conversations that are critical to our society and that need to be addressed in any language. We are doing the classes both in Spanish and English. I have always thought that education goes beyond the classroom walls, so doing a videoconference class with Ms. Garcia has allowed students to gain knowledge about historical events, such as WWII and the Holocaust, hear from survivors as they did when they interviewed the hologram of a Holocaust survivor last year, and become empowered about how to react to difficult experiences when they explored five forms of social cruelty in our last session.”
Ms. Garcia applauds teachers like Mrs. Vallejo for their support and bringing these important conversations into the classroom. “I also believe that it is critical to have these tough discussions with students, especially in today’s society, and encourage students to use their voices to make a positive difference in their communities and in the larger world,” she said.