Over the past three years, students at Robert E. Lee High School have taken part in a unique opportunity to be “citizen historians” with history teacher Jennifer Goss. As members of a pilot group for a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum initiative now titled “History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust”, students are able to engage with history in a new fashion while contributing research to a national institution. This year Mrs. Goss and her students received a special honor when they were selected to showcase the project at the Virginia School Boards Association Student Achievement Fair. The Achievement Fair highlights outstanding initiatives from school divisions across the commonwealth. Programs and practices are selected based on creativity and impact on student achievement.
Mrs. Lori Swortzel, an assistant principal at R. E. Lee High School who joined Mrs. Goss and two of her students at the Achievement Fair, shared her thoughts on both the importance of the project and this honor: “Our students have the opportunity to not just learn about history, but experience it through the eyes of the residents of Staunton during the Holocaust. They are discovering far more than what a book can teach them and are making relevant connections to their community and personal current events. These connections are then shared with the world! Jen Goss is an amazing educator who inspires students to be active participants in the learning process. She and her two student representatives, Sadie Stott and Katie Giovine, articulated their passion for history with poise at the VSBA conference.”
Participation in this project came about as part of Lee History teacher and USHMM Teacher Fellow Jennifer Goss’s involvement in the USHMM Regional Education Corps. Goss works with the Museum to help facilitate educational programs for educators nationwide and also to help explore new classroom applications. The outcomes of the students’ research and that of other students and citizen historians nationwide will help the Museum and scholars answer the question, “What did Americans know about the events of the Holocaust as they were unfolding?” Goss believes, “This project enriches student learning related to this time period in history. Not only do students have the opportunity to get their hands dirty with history but they also get to see how their own community functioned during the past. Students love to not only research these events but also to see the prices of items at this time and other 'headlines' from this era."
The project began in the 2014-15 school year when Goss teamed up with four other educators across the country to explore how students could effectively engage in researching this material. Goss was the first educator in the cohort to tackle the subject during that school year while working with students in Lee’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies elective, and she designed a lesson plan that is now a part of the History Unfolded online resource collection.
Information collected by students is input into a national database via the official History Unfolded site (newspapers.ushmm.org). Students at Lee have contributed over two dozen articles and more will be added during the 2016-17 school year.
As a result of the positive feedback of students from Staunton and the other schools, the Museum moved forward with the initiative and additional pilot groups took part in the lesson during the 2015-16 school year. In that same year Goss expanded the project into her Dual Enrollment US History course, and this year she extended it into her US/VA History course.
To learn more, please visit newspapers.ushmm.org.