By Abigail W. Adams
Wiscasset Middle School seventh-graders made a presentation in remembrance of victims of the Holocaust at the school’s spirit assembly Friday, May 15. The assembly marked the last time the seventh grade would present in the middle school gym. (Abigail Adams photo)
The lights went out in the Wiscasset Middle School gym Friday, May 15. In darkness, the seventh grade walked in holding handmade butterflies illuminated by a small electronic tea light.
The presentation by the seventh grade at the spirit assembly, a tradition at the school for approximately 20 years, was the last one they would give before the seventh and eighth grades move to the high school. It was devoted to honoring and remembering the 1.5 million children killed in the Holocaust.
Ten students lined up behind a podium holding their butterflies. The tea lights were left on the ground when the student approached the microphone to read the poetry written in secret by the children of the Terezin concentration camp.
The lights remained alone on the ground flickering as the students returned to the darkness after their poem was read.
“Many of the writers are anonymous,” master of ceremonies Jade Riego said, “but they will never be forgotten.”
For six weeks, the seventh grade studied the Holocaust, the systematic categorization and extermination of the Jewish people, in addition to political dissidents, gypsies, homosexuals, and individuals with physical and mental disabilities, in Nazi-controlled Europe.
“It’s opened their eyes,” English language arts teacher Katie Loubier said. “They were really engaged with this unit.”
Through literature, poetry, and a field trip to the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine in Augusta, students learned about one of the most tragic events in the 20th century through the words of its victims.
“We all learned a lot,” Gabe Varian said. “It was sad and good at the same time.”
Students also learned about the pyramid of hate – how simple acts of unkindness can lay the foundation for prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination. Students learned how bullying can serve as a building block to genocide, the deliberate slaughter of a large group of people based on ethnicity or nationality, which did not end with the Holocaust.
After reading poetry, the seventh grade presented a video where students interviewed each other about the books they read and their meaning.
“This has changed the way we think about people,” Ellie Pratt said. All students who spoke at the assembly said the unit had an impact on how they treat each other.
Inspired by the butterfly project of the Holocaust Museum of Houston, which collected 1.5 million handmade butterflies to represent the children killed in the Holocaust, the seventh grade embarked on their own butterfly project to spread the word against hatred and bullying.
The seventh grade invited the entire middle school to join them in the project and make butterflies for the seventh grade class to take with them when they transition to the high school next year.
“I am so proud of what you all just did,” Wiscasset Middle School Principal Bruce Scally said to the students. “It was one of the best things I’ve seen in my 37 years in education. It shows what we can do when students take the lead supported by good teachers.”