Jan Munn has been teaching art at Chaires Elementary School for 16 years. In that time, she has designed countless lessons and projects that inspire her students to explore their creativity, express their feelings and ideas, and learn about our cultural history. She recently challenged her fourth-graders with a new art project.
This one encourages them to exercise their compassion and examine the consequences of prejudice, specifically as it relates to the Holocaust.
In 1994, the state of Florida passed a bill that mandated Holocaust instruction for students from kindergarten to 12th grade. To assist in this effort, there are nine Task Force sites across the state that offer intensive training programs, curricula and resources for teachers. Tallahassee is the location for one of them, the Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC), and Munn has become one of the organization’s most ardent supporters.
“I started going to the HERC workshops because I was like ‘How do you teach the Holocaust?’ It’s so difficult and it was so horrible.” After years of involvement and training, Munn not only is adept at bringing the subject into her own classroom, she’s helping others do the same. As a member of HERC’s education committee, she’s working to develop teaching trunks that include books and other classroom resources including copies of her own lesson plans for other educators to use if they wish.
Using age-appropriate instructional strategies, Munn has learned to introduce the content to her students gradually. “Kindergarten just gets a little piece of it. I’ll read them a Dr.
Seuss book like ‘Yertle the Turtle,’ ” an allegory representing the rise and fall of the Nazi party. “As they get older I go more in depth. By the time the kids get to high school, they’re digging really deep into the survivors’ stories, but we have to go very gently for our little tykes and build on it as we go.”
Munn’s fourth-graders have been studying “The Butterfly,” a poem written by Pavel Friedmann in 1942 at Theresienstadt concentration camp. This camp is often referred to as Terezín, the garrison city where it was located.
Inspired by that poem, students are undertaking a printmaking project and incorporating a butterfly motif into their designs. After Munn explained the printmaking process, showed examples and demonstrated the techniques, students were able to translate their sketches into actual prints. In some cases, this proved more complicated than expected.
Grayson Blake found it difficult to evenly distribute the ink onto his Styrofoam printing plate. “I added too much or too little. It’s really hard to get the perfect amount to get the perfect print.” With an attitude of determination, he said, “even though I wasn’t that lucky today, I’m going to keep trying.”
Though Grayson and his classmates have learned about printmaking through this lesson, they have gained much more than that. When reflecting on the essential message of the classwork they’ve done, Grayson said, “Kids were taken away and some were separated from their families. It’s important to remember that. Doing this helps us remember that.”
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