Middle and Upper School Student Experience Enriched by Guest Speakers

While the end of the school year can be a busy time for many, our Middle and Upper Schoolers have been given the opportunities to slow down and reflect. American novelist Tom Lin, Director of Education for the American Society for Yad Vashem Dr. Marlene W. Yahalom and Holocaust survivor Aviva Cohen each visited Princeton Day School to speak with students about their unique perspectives. 

Tom Lin Virtually Visits Upper School

Upper School English teacher Jessica Manners was excited to introduce her students to an exceptional kind of Western story-telling in her American literature class. When discussing the importance of choosing The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu by Tom Lin, Manners explained, “Part of the exciting thing about teaching American literature is that we have so many avenues to go down, in terms of era, genre, representation, and geography, and we realized that we hadn't previously exposed our sophomores to what is arguably the most American of all genres, the Western. This seemed like the perfect way to address that gap: here was a story that was not only a Western, but was giving voice to people who had traditionally been erased from that type of narrative, and on top of that, it had all of these exciting elements, like magical realism and Tarantino-esque violence, paired with beautiful, philosophical ideas about geography, time, and memory.”

During Lin’s virtual visit, he read parts of the novel aloud to Upper Schoolers and even answered some questions. On reflecting about what made the visit so special, Manners said, “Personally, I loved the way he wove stories of his grandmother into his conversation about the novel--his actual experiences of memory and loss added poignancy to the narrative. 

He was also wonderful at fielding all our questions – he was really funny, down-to-earth and relatable. As a person guilty of productive procrastination myself, I really liked hearing about his research process, and I think we all appreciated his acknowledging that writing is hard. A few students were pleasantly surprised when he mentioned that the character he most related to was not Ming, but was the prophet (not because of his mystical abilities, but because of his terrible memory). I think, on the whole, the students felt really gratified to hear how much thought he had put into the narrative – all their close-reading felt validated!”

Middle School Students Engage in Important Conversations About Childhood During the Holocaust

For Middle Schoolers, learning about the atrocities of the Holocaust has not been confined to discussions in class. With two visitors, students were given a glimpse into what the world looked like for children their age and younger during World War II. 

Beth Yakoby, Middle School History teacher, explained that bringing both speakers to campus were student-driven initiatives. “Dr. Marlene YaHalom’s visit was coordinated by PDS alum Carly Feldstein ’20. She reached out to me and explained that Dr. YaHalom is the Director of Education for the American Society of Yad Vashem, so I felt that she would be a reliable source to enrich my students’ examination of the Holocaust. Aviva Cohen’s visit was also student-driven. Talia Berkman ’27 reached out to the Grade 7 Dean about this visit. Talia's grandmother is close friends with Ms. Cohen. The dean, in turn, reached out to me to make the arrangements. Since there are so few survivors these days, I wanted to seize this opportunity for Ms. Cohen to speak to the 7th and 8th graders.”

Dr. YaHalom and Ms. Cohen’s visits offered different experiences for students: Dr. YaHalom led students through stories and photographs of children before, during and after World War II in exhibit called “No Child’s Play,” while Ms. Cohen spoke directly to students about her experiences as a child during, and the years following, the Holocaust. “The reception to both visits was extremely positive,” said Yakoby, “The students really appreciated Dr. YaHalom’s exhibit, contrasting their own lives to place and time for those children. Ms. Cohen's visit was very powerful for our students since she gave a firsthand account of events.”

All three special guests have added significant value to the academic environment of Princeton Day School and we are so grateful for the conversations and collaboration that have taken place as a result of their visits.

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