hey have walked the grounds of Auschwitz; examined culture and conflict with Israelis of many faiths; and retraced the journey of a Holocaust survivor. Each summer, WT faculty immerse themselves in history, culture, politics, and current events through robust, riveting Classrooms Without Borders (CWB) study seminars that provide experiential professional development for teachers and impact curriculum in each division, with more than a dozen WT teachers participating to date.

Upper School

Fueled by a vibrant network of resources rooted in scholarship, CWB’s educational tours focus on Holocaust and Israel education in Poland, Israel, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Germany—with Italy, Spain, and Russia on the horizon. Since 2013, Andy has explored four of those countries. Among his experiences: visiting Distomo, a Greek village decimated by the German army and SS for harboring resistance fighters and, with 89-year-old Holocaust survivor Howard Chandler, traversing Poland, including Warsaw, Krakow, and Starachowice, Chandler’s hometown.

Andy has developed two courses around CWB seminars—Genocide and Holocaust Studies, an examination of genocide throughout history and the theory and practice of how mass atrocities are studied, and Modern Middle East History, a regional survey from the late Ottoman period to the present, focusing on political and economic reforms—and his experiences augment longstanding courses like AP European History. “In 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain sent Columbus west, they also expelled all Jews from Spain. That connects with my experience in Greece when, during Shabbat services in Thessaloniki…they sang in Ladino, the language of medieval Spanish Jews. That community still exists!”

“For educators and lifelong learners, Classrooms Without Borders has vast importance,” continues Andy. “If teachers attend multiple years, they’ll make connections across study seminars. And CWB is building itself into a resource for teachers beyond the summer.”

Two years ago, during a surge in violence against Israeli Jews, Andy’s students Skyped with CWB education director and Jerusalem resident Avi Ben-Hur, who reported in real time. “That isn’t possible if you don’t have those connections,” asserts Andy.

Middle School

A CWB study tour in 2006 forged a cornerstone Middle School experience: the cross-curricular Holocaust Project. The unit has always culminated in a showcase of student work; now students also contribute to History Unfolded, crowd-sourced research organized by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum—efforts that will inform a future exhibit and may even be included in the museum itself.

“Students work to gather evidence of what people in Pittsburgh might have known about various aspects of World War II and the Holocaust based on what was being published in local newspapers,” explains Middle School English teacher Callie DiSabato. “Students then submit their findings to the museum.”

In 2016, DiSabato was in Auschwitz with Chandler when he discovered the exact date of his imprisonment there—“an incredible thing to witness,” she says. “CWB greatly expanded my content knowledge, but it also created a space for me to be invested in the teaching of the Holocaust in a way that I could not have created without the trip.”

The impact extends beyond the Holocaust curriculum. “The SciFi and Social Justice unit was inspired in part because of my trip to Poland. The project gives students the opportunity to create story concepts based on newspaper articles they read—another intentional connection to the History Unfolded project—asking questions such as ‘if this continued…’ ‘what if…’ and ‘if only…’ These questions definitely connect to learning about the Holocaust, as so much of what happened is so disturbing and difficult to process.”

Lower School

During her 2013 Israel learning tour, fifth grade teacher and Global Citizenship Coordinator Karen Gaul listened as an Arab- Israeli student shared her struggles as a minority—and her pride at being Israeli; explored identity with teachers at Haifa’s Hebrew Reali School; and met with the Palestinian-Israeli Parents Circle, whose members have lost loved ones to conflict, and now promote reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

The experiences were compelling, challenging—and led to curricular changes. Educators at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, “…transformed my teaching about refugees in our immigration unit.” Gaul also added persuasive writing to the curriculum, and strengthened a unit in which students explore their own identities. “Students now do more exploration of how their experiences have shaped their lives.”

Moreover, Gaul’s experiences helped shape the Pre-K–5 Global Citizenship framework she developed with then-Lower School Director Ashley Harper, and lent perspective to WT’s partnership with Peking University Elementary School (PUES). “We often refer to the PUES visit as global citizenship in action,” she says of the annual two-week immersion where City and North Hills Campus Lower School students welcome Chinese students and learn firsthand the importance of communicating with a diverse audience, sharing multiple perspectives, and understanding identity—just as Gaul did during encounters from Galilee to Tel Aviv.

Specialty Sojourns

Statue of Janusz Korczak in Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw. Korczak never left the orphans under his care and marched with them to the transport; he was murdered at Treblinka.

Whether focused on early childhood, archaeological expeditions, or the aquifers and wells of old Jerusalem, CWB also offers educational seminars geared toward specific disciplines. Last summer’s theme, visual arts, had Visual Arts Department Chair Sally Allan and art teacher Stephanie Flati living and creating with Israeli artists, exploring art galleries and museums—including perhaps the only Arab-Palestinian art museum—and exchanging ideas with curators and other arts professionals. A Tel Aviv graffiti tour will flavor projects in Flati’s Middle School curriculum; Allan’s North Hills Campus students will create a wall made of clay blocks inspired by Jerusalem’s sacred Wailing Wall, and—as pilgrims have done for centuries—write or draw their own messages to place there.

Plans are still unfolding, but Allan envisions older students decorating blocks with patterns reminiscent of Arab and Israeli imagery, glazing the blocks, then assembling them with cracks in between, to allow for students’ intentions.

“I would like to focus on conflict resolution and tolerance of differences in building our wall,” shares Allan. “I’ll talk about how the Wailing Wall is important for people of all different faiths, and how people come together from all over the world to pray and find things to hope for.”

Through the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, the wall will ultimately be exhibited alongside projects of other area educators who went on the trip, and will also be displayed in the WT Art Gallery.

Not Just for Teachers

CWB’s student programs include an annual service project placing American teenagers with host families at the Children’s Village in Karmiel, Israel. The Village —a complex of homes, playgrounds, and a general store—shelters Israeli children with no stable families of their own. Each home is headed by two adults who act as parents, providing care and a stable environment. During WT’s spring break, Upper School students become part of everyday life in Karmiel—helping the children with homework, shooting hoops, or simply hanging out.

It’s an immersion into another culture driven by service, says science teacher Kristen Hannan, who has chaperoned two such trips. Upon receiving host family assignments, students begin raising funds so they can bring new shoes, toys, and clothes for their host siblings.

“It’s a powerful experience for our students. They see children who have nothing, (who) just want someone to love them and spend time with them. The kids are so happy to get a pair of shoes or anything they can call their own.

“It is so much more than just raising money,” continues Hannan. “The time that the students spend with kids in the village is more valuable than anything. They have made lifelong connections.”

And connections while learning, for teachers and students alike, are the purpose of CWB study tours: of people to people, of past to present.

“As historians, there’s still so much we don’t know about the Holocaust,” reflects Andy, whose Ph.D. is in Russian History. “For me, this matters because we have the obligation for victims and survivors to never forget. And one of the things that Classrooms Without Borders says, as we learn about the Holocaust, is that this is not a Jewish story. It’s the story of humanity—a human story.”

From Classrooms Without Borders Founder Dr. Zipora (Tsipy) Gur:
“Winchester is a really good model on how you integrate Classrooms Without Borders (CWB) study seminars into the curriculum. It is amazing to see how—when you continue doing it in one school—you make a difference because you build professional development for teachers in a meaningful, systematic way. Many of the teachers come back and create new courses, often in collaboration with colleagues from other departments. If they are teaching the Holocaust and genocide, for example, they can bring it to art, they can bring it to literature, they can bring it to social studies. “WT has been participating for more than 10 years, and I give a lot of credit to Head of School Gary Niels—he really opened his school to the programming—and Dean of Faculty Amanda Welsh is another incredible support. The [trajectory of WT’s] growth, you can’t even imagine! CWB is not just a trip. It uses the country as a text book, and opens the world to a teacher. Our program impacts the style of teaching, the content knowledge, and inspires new ideas and opportunities. But it takes time. It’s not something you can do in a year or two; you really have to build on it. And that’s what we do with Winchester Thurston.”