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A trip to Kentucky by sophomores Griffin Graham and Zane Woodell indirectly led to them reconnecting with Harrison Middle School teacher Daniel Shaner, and now all three are working together on a proposal to create a new Holocaust elective at the high school.
The partnership got its start when Graham and Woodell participated in a Holocaust education class offered through the Pittsburgh-based organization Classrooms Without Borders at Western Kentucky University over the summer.
“There was an opportunity to go and we were both interested,” Graham said.
A teacher from the Western Kentucky program got them back in touch with Shaner, who had been their middle school gifted teacher.
“Shaner went to Poland through the same program,” Wooddell said. “One of our teachers at Kentucky had gone with Shaner and we found out through him.”
The Holocaust always has been an important subject for Shaner due to the time he spent teaching The Diary of Anne Frank in his English classes. Recently he expanded that unit to include much more information and literature relating to the time.
Shaner also took a class offered by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and met several members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community and Holocaust survivors whose stories deeply impacted him. The mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill further strengthened his resolve, and gave him even more of a reason to try to bring such a class to Baldwin.
“Many of our world’s problems can be traced to a lack of understanding of other people, their lives, and their problems,” Shaner said. “If I can reach our students, and show them that we have no reason to fear people who may not be exactly like us, I can make the world a better, safer place for my students and my grandchildren.”
“If I can reach our students, and show them that we have no reason to fear people who may not be exactly like us, I can make the world a better, safer place for my students and my grandchildren.”- Daniel Shaner
After connecting with Graham and Woodell, Shaner began working with them to develop a curriculum and write a proposal for a semester course to be considered by district administration.
The course would cover the basic history of the holocaust and its effect, incorporating literature relating to the topic such as Elie Wiesel’s Night, said Woodell.
The proposal must pass through several levels of administration before it can be presented to the school board for consideration. Currently, the district’s curriculum review cycle is focused on social studies K-12, so the district is open to exploring the possibility of new elective courses, Curriculum Director Andrea Huffman said.
“It is a long process, but I believe the final product will be worth the wait,” Shaner said.
He encourages students to contact him if they are interested in getting involved with the curriculum or proposal writing.
“I believe that we all have a responsibility to earn our spots on this Earth, to leave some good behind us,” Shaner said. “We ask for change, but we can only affect change by understanding what needs to be changed.”