Students learning about Holocaust donate shoes to local shelter

Published 12:10 am Monday, May 8, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

LANDIS — It’s not often that you get to learn a lesson in history side-by-side with a lesson in compassion. But that’s what Kelly Woodward has spent the year doing with her history classes at South Rowan High School.

The Holocaust is a big subject in Woodward’s World History class, but her students aren’t able to visit museums and memorials like some schools. So Woodward and her fellow teachers started setting up their own Holocaust museum.

“We were just looking for a way to kind of bring the Holocaust to a more tangible place for the kids,” she said.

She and other teachers put a lot of care into reconstructing some of the famous exhibits from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. There’s a room that deals with Nazi propaganda, a section where students can listen to a man telling the story of his deportation and one where they watch a video of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

Some of the main features of the national museum are the piles of items salvaged from concentration camps — clothes, wedding rings, prosthetic limbs.

“And then there’s just one that has just shoes,” Woodward said.

As a way to make the lesson hit home, she asked her class to bring in gently used pairs of shoes, without mentioning the footwear’s role in the makeshift museum. But at the end of the activity, she told them, the shoes would be donated to Rowan Helping Ministries.

It’s an idea that Woodward got from a former student turned teacher, and one she tried out in fall with some success. With the help of faculty, she collected 100 pairs of shoes and donated them to Main Street Family Mission. This time, however, she asked faculty to hang back.

“This time I wanted to see what would happen if we really asked the kids to step up,” she said.

Students donated 150 pairs.

“I had one girl who brought 20 pairs of shoes,” she said.

Woodward held her Holocaust museum activity last week, trying to connect lessons from the disaster with the students’ everyday lives.

When they got to the shoes, Woodward asked students to solve a math problem — with 11 million victims, how many victims did each pair of shoes present represent?

It came out to about 73,000, she said — a number that shocked students.

At the end, they watch the liberation video. For the most part, she said, the students are carefree. But when it comes to the video, there’s an air of gravity.

“They usually watch it in absolute dead silence,” she said.

Afterwards, the group talks about bullying and the roll of “the silent bystander.” Students come to understand that the horrors of the holocaust didn’t happen all at once.

“It didn’t just spring up overnight. It was a gradual process,” Woodward said.

And it’s made a difference for students — not just in learning about the Holocaust, but the act of collecting and donating shoes, and learning about Rowan Helping Ministries.

“ ‘Now I’m really going to think about what I say about what people wear,’ ” Woodward said a student told her. “ ‘I never really connected that it may not be a choice.’ ”

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.