Last week, A Level students Tom Hennessy and James Thompson took a lesson with the whole of Year 9, to tell them about their experience visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The two students had the humbling opportunity to visit there late last year after winning an essay competition for the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET). The competition is run every year, and the experience certainly left its mark on the two students. It started with a day in London at the Holocaust Educational Trust, where they met a Holocaust survivor. This was followed by a trip to Auschwitz. The group visited the nearby town, as well as the concentration camp site.
“We went with a lot of other schools, and met lots of people there,” Tom said. “I found out about the Holocaust from many different perspectives, including a Rabbi. After we visited Auschwitz we had a seminar afterwards and then wrote our reflections about the visit.”
“To say it was moving was an understatement,” he added. “There is simply no other site quite like it. A feel of death hangs over Auschwitz. Everywhere you look, the most sickening events in the human story come to life. Visiting the site gives no feeling of positivity. It can only evoke despair.”
“You can’t get that experience anywhere else,” James added. “No matter how much work in a classroom you do, how many books you read, that’s an experience that definitely changes you.”
You can read Tom’s full reflections on the visit at his history blog, Hyperion History. Tom, James, Head of History James Gisby and Year 9 students gave us their thoughts about the lesson in this video.
Giving back to students
Part of the programme run by the Holocaust Educational Trust was for the winning students to disseminate the information that they learned back to their school, and James and Tom did so by delivering a lesson to Year 9, earlier this month.
It was a very thought provoking lesson, and the Year 9 pupils gave the subject the full attention it deserved.
“We used a number of different resources, including print-outs, as well as visuals on the board,” Tom told us. “We talked about how the people who perpetrated the acts have to be humanised. You can’t just call them monsters, you have to reflect on the ethics of it. Who was to blame, the people who gave the orders, the people who carried out the acts, both?”
“What we aimed to do was not only talk to the kids, but interact with them as well,” James added. “You really want to engage them, interest them, and do something that’s relevant to them. Something I tried to do was show the people of an event like this are very similar to the people of today, how there are people who hurt each other, and there are people who just stand by and let it happen, and I used the example of bullying. Whilst they’re hugely different subjects, I think the ideas are still relevant today.”
The students had very positive feedback from the Year 9 students. “Not everyone can learn from sitting down and listening, and it’s good for people to learn by doing. Instead of just reading about it in books, or watching videos, they were actually there, and they got the message across very well,” said Archie Sleeman. Fellow Year 9 student Flora Mackenzie also felt that “they did really well, and their confidence was really good. They didn’t shy away or anything.”
Head of History, James Gisby, was full of praise for how the students went about planning the lesson. “The whole point of the experience is to pass that information back throughout the school. When they were thinking about it, they said they didn’t just want to give a talk to the whole school, because people can stop listening. They wanted the pupils to get involved in an active way, and think about what their possible role could have been in the Holocaust.”
This culture of giving back to fellow students is something that we believe firmly in at Seaford College. As part of the Gifted and Talented programme, Year 11 students are mentored by Sixth form students, and Matt Kouris, a former Seaford student who now plays for The London Irish Rugby team, coached Prep school pupils in his time at Seaford.
We also believe firmly in giving back to the community, never seen more clearly than on Seaford’s annual Big Day Out, where 500 students go out into the community to give something back.