Thanks to a generous gift from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, The Kentucky Center has just launched an important new project called Anne Frank: Bearing Witness, in partnership with Brown University's ArtsLiteracy Project, the University of Louisville, Stage One Family Theatre, Jefferson County Public Schools, St. Francis of Assisi School, and the Center for Holocaust & Humanity Education (CHHE).
Teacher teams from Noe Middle, Western Middle, Jefferson County Traditional Middle, and St. Francis of Assisi schools joined our other partners for a two-day retreat that included a day-long of training led by Eileen Landay, Kurt Wootton, and Len Newman about the arts-integrated approach to literature studies they developed at Brown University's ArtsLiteracy Project called the Performance Cycle (see related article below). On the second day we went deeper into this process, received critical advice on Best Practices in Holocaust education from Alexis Storch (CHHE) and then supported the teacher teams as they began to develop curriculum units to teach in their schools in January through March.
For many students, Anne Frank's diary is their first encounter with the Holocaust, and very importantly, it is through a primary source. Because it is written by a 14-year-old girl, it makes the history more personal and accessible. It also contains a wonderful spirit of hope during the darkest of times.
When I first brought together partners from Brown University and the University of Louisville to discuss how U of L will provide the evaluation component of this project, I was asked what I would ultimately want the final report to include. I told them that for me, success means that students are actively engaged, that their empathetic responses to this work are expressed artistically and with authenticity, that the teachers will forever embrace a new way of teaching that integrates the arts in powerful and meaningful ways, and that both students and teachers will be transformed by this experience. I added that my wish for the students is that this 70-year-old diary will matter to them and that they will be inspired to action in their own lives.
This is a very ambitious set of outcomes, and difficult to measure. How do you assign a numeric value to changing a life? We are very fortunate to have the assistance of expertise from our partners at the University of Louisville College of Education & Human Development, led by Dr. Kathryn Whitmore and James Chisholm, with the assistance of two Doctoral students, Ashley Shelton and Irina McGrath.
The ArtsLiteracy Project has lived up to its reputation as one of the nation's leading arts education programs. They have won the Coming Up Taller Award and were named by Arts Education Partnership as one of the countries top ten arts education programs. Their training was "off the charts" great, as they expertly led us through building a safe community, entering and comprehending text from the Diary, and creating our own artistic responses to this very painful and difficult chapter in human history.
Last summer, I was fortunate to be invited to a first-rate training program at KET called Echoes and Reflections, led by Alexis Storch, the Director of Education at The Center for Holcaust & Humanity Education in Cincinnati. After experiencing her training, I knew that we needed to bring her on board as a partner. Although this project is primarily an arts-integrated approach to studying literature, we have to make sure that we "get it right" when introducing 8th-grade students to the Holocaust. Alexis brings that expertise to the table, along with Fred Whittaker who has led an extraordinary Holocaust Studies unit at St. Francis of Assisi School for many years.
It is not easy to describe how incredible the two-day retreat has been. All I can say right now, is that in my 17 years as Director of School Programs at The Kentucky Center, this is one of the most powerful, far reaching, and important projects we have undertaken. We are proud to have assembled such incredible partners, which also includes a fabulous group of dedicated teachers and two outstanding teaching artists: Jane Dewey (Danville Schools) and Talleri McRae (Stage One Family Theatre).
We will work together from October through December to support the teacher teams as they develop their curriculum units that apply the arts-rich Performance Cycle approach to The Diary of Anne Frank. In January through March, the teachers will teach their units in the four partner schools and the University of Louisville team will help us to evaluate the impact of this project on students and teachers.
In March, students at the four schools will present their culminating projects which will include performances and exhibits that weave together excerpts from Anne Frank's diary and their own artistic responses to the following essential question: "What is important enough for me to bear witness to in my life?" In April, all of the partners will gather to share their experiences, see video of culminating performances, and share student work.
We believe that this is only the beginning -- that this pilot project will serve as a national model and make a significant contribution to education in the arts, literacy, and Holocaust studies for generations to come.