In Plumsted Township Education Association (Ocean County), art teacher Rita R. Williams of Dr. Gerald H. Woehr Elementary School works with second grade teachers Megan Castro, Jana Kekesi, Cheryl Marinari, Courtney Adelung, Kristin Abate and Cara Sapiezynski to implement a $9,100 grant.

Now more than ever educators must teach with courage and social conscience to help students fight the dangers of intolerance, apathy, and hate. Teaching the Holocaust and genocide topics should make students think, discuss, and understand so they can become humanitarians.

What’s in Your Suitcase brings these topics to elementary school students in an age-appropriate and meaningful program of humanitarian education infused into art and writing explorations. During dark times in history when people were deported, they were told to pack a suitcase. Often these people did not know what was ahead. Their belongings were often ransacked and possessions taken by their captors. In current times, many refugees flee their homes for the safety of the United States with only a suitcase. The suitcase becomes a metaphor for what is inside you.

Second graders create a lexicon of strong words to pack in their suitcase (ex. courage). They create three-dimensional suitcases using art media and recycled materials. Students create art projects that illustrate important social themes and write in journals. Students serve as ambassadors of the project and share their suitcases and projects with other grade levels and parents.

Students have the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors, refugees, and immigrants. They create a “Caring Closet” to house gently used clothing, toiletries, and other objects to donate to refugee organizations. Students work with an artist-in-residence to create an original book based on their suitcase. The book is published in hard cover for classroom libraries. Students also visit Philadelphia to search for signs of liberty and justice in historical areas.

For further information, contact:

Rita R. Williams
609-758-6800, ext. 3615 (school)

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