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.
“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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”