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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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April 18, 2024

Freshman educates peers about Holocaust; message resonates with staff and students

After frequently hearing Jewish stereotypes and jokes about the Holocaust, freshman Emily Schweitzer planned and presented a lesson on anti-Semitism to English teachers Omari James and Ashley Houghton’s English 9 and AP Language and Composition classes May 26-27.

Freshman Emily Schweitzer talks to English classes about the daily implications of anti-semitism and
Freshman Emily Schweitzer talks to English classes about the daily implications of anti-semitism in response to Omari James’s anti-bullying lesson. Photo by Omari James.

An anti-bullying activity in which students wrote and shared personal secrets anonymously in James’s class prompted Schweitzer to pursue the idea. Student responses within James’ activity ranged from surface-level traits to personal fears and anxieties. After the activity, students submitted the secrets with their student IDs, so James had the ability to identify them and make sure they took the activity seriously, she said.

“I couldn’t just turn in my sheet and expect James to glance over it,” Schweitzer said. “We talked after class, and I decided that talking to individual people wasn’t enough—I had to make everyone understand.”

The lesson consisted of an explanation of the Holocaust, a conversation about anti-Semitism and Schweitzer’s family story, which detailed her grandparents’ experiences in concentration camps of Budapest, Hungary.

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The presentation resonated strongly with junior Adrienne Kafka, a student in James’ AP Lang class. She especially appreciated that Schweitzer emphasized that anti-Semitism exists in every community, even those with large Jewish populations like Bethesda, Kafka said.

“If people realize that anti-Semitism is a problem at Whitman, which prides itself on being an accepting community, a lot of students will realize how large the problem really is,” Kafka said. “Students will look more closely at their actions, as well as the actions of those around them.”

Schweitzer attributes her presentation’s success to support from James inside and outside of the classroom, she said.

“[He] genuinely cares about every student,” Schweitzer said. “He sees that sometimes it’s important to stop the curriculum and just talk.”

After the presentation, Houghton asked Schweitzer to give the lesson in her classes. She will give the presentations June 6.

“I’m hoping that I can spread the message to as many kids as possible,” Schweitzer said. “Students everywhere need to be mindful that what you say can hurt somebody else, even if that isn’t the intention.”

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