An incredible whirlwind of three weeks comes to a close

Jonathan Vaughn
Jonathan Vaughn

As VAMPY comes to a close Friday and we reflect back over these last three weeks, it is both exciting how much the class has accomplished and how incredible the entire experience has been.

In one of our recent discussions, many of our students admitted that had have been asked, “Why do you want to take a class about the Holocaust?” or “Why do you want to study something so depressing?” What they universally came back to in our discussion was the fact that this particular subject is too important not to study, and the way our class has approached the various topics and events is far from depressing and dark. These three weeks have been filled with positive and thoughtful discussions related to Nazi Germany as well as relevant modern-day topics of concern. Through considerate and civil discussions, our students have learned, and they have grown to appreciate better the foundational reasons why the Holocaust was allowed to occur as well as how we as a modern-day global society should respond to future issues.

The class has been incredibly busy with three main projects: a play about Anne Frank, a mock trial of Adolph Hitler, and a collaborative 6-foot by 8-foot mural of the students’ own creation. This year’s projects are particularly meaningful to us because we have been working directly with Holocaust survivors Fred Gross, author of One Step Ahead of Hitler: A Jewish Child’s Journey Through France, and Jeffrey Jamner, whose mother and grandmother were in Auschwitz before they escaped. In addition to these experiences, we traveled during the second week to Washington, D.C. to visit both the National Holocaust Museum and the newly opened Smithsonian Museum on African American History. Both of these museums depict topics involving prejudice and hatred. The day was an extraordinary learning experience for everyone.

Thanks to a grant received from the Jewish Heritage Foundation, this year’s mural is the focal topic of a Kentucky Educational Television documentary. Our normal coverage of the material was altered to match the request of the film crew. The documentary, which will be shared widely, covers our class as a whole, our various projects and the work involved in making these projects come to life, and the many experiences our students have been a part of while in the class.

Earlier this week, I was asked to describe VAMPY and our class in just one or two words. My response was, “beyond description.” Our students spent three weeks learning, growing, discussing, creating, crafting, and working to understand better one of the darkest periods in human history. Students indicated visiting the Holocaust Museum was one of the most powerful learning experiences of the course. Additionally, the opportunity to engage with Holocaust survivors Fred Gross and Jeffrey Jamner proved to be a real highlight. The discussions among classmates were exceptionally meaningful and enhanced everyone’s understanding.

Our time spent at VAMPY represents three of the fastest weeks I’ve ever experienced personally and professionally. They have been three of the most enjoyable and educational weeks I’ve ever experienced because of these kind, intelligent, and overall wonderful students.