Meeting a Holocaust survivor is humbling. I’m sure it’s different for each of us, depending on our own perspective and history, but hearing the stories of survivors—like Paula Lebovics, who spoke at middle and upper last week—inevitably leaves us feeling horrified, sad, and grateful to be in the presence of someone who’s experienced the unthinkable and is willing to share her story.
Although I have been in the presence of other survivors talking with students, the reason for Ms. Lebovics’ visit to Wildwood was a departure. More often than not, other survivors have shared their stories in the context of a unit of study, usually in history or literature. This time my performing arts colleagues—specifically Stephanie Darby, with the support and help of elementary parent Jodi Schwartz and the USC Shoah Foundation—arranged for Ms. Lebovics to speak to all middle and upper school students the week before our spring production of The Sound of Music.
Our Town. Grease. The Sound of Music. The list goes on, but there are certain plays and musicals that get lots of traction in middle and upper schools. There are valid reasons, ranging from they’re just good fun (Grease) to they connect with young people on a level that speaks to the stuff of life with which they’re wrestling (Our Town). The Sound of Music, our spring production, is a bit of both.
Still, my middle and upper school performing arts colleagues doubled down to interrupt what could potentially be a relatively thin focus on an irrepressibly unconventional and happy nun, and Alpen flowers, to make certain that our students go deeper. Depth over breadth, one of the 10 common principles on which our middle and upper school program was designed, dictates that we go beyond simply covering a broad range of content to insist that students understand it more deeply. Our goal is that students should work with the content, to understand it and be able to place it in the context of everything else they’re learning.
It’s not unusual for depth over breadth to be the norm in a core content area, where a group of students might read, discuss, and gain a deeper understanding of 10 books instead of cursorily “covering”—and just being tested on—15 over the course of a year. Inviting Dr. Kori Street, the Senior Director of Programs and Administration at USC Shoah Foundation, to give a talk in the week before our students see a matinee of The Sound of Music is unusual.
Think about it. 400 plus students will witness and celebrate their classmates’ work and talent having gained a greater understanding of the broader context—and the horror—that paralleled the Von Trapp family’s story in pre-WWII Austria. Sixteen Going on Seventeen takes on a new dimension when teenagers hear the story that Paula Lebovics and her family lived at the same point in history.
Taking questions from our students, Ms. Lebovics was gracious, earnest, clear, and forgiving. She shared with students her incredulity when faced with the common question of whether or not she hates. How could she hate, she said, when she doesn’t know a person? What good does hate do? Look where it led us, she observed.
I’m happy that my students, colleagues, parents, and I will get to enjoy a wonderful show that promises to be beautifully sung, acted, directed, and produced. I’m particularly grateful to my performing arts colleagues, Jodi Schwartz, Dr. Street, and Ms. Lebovics for making sure that we experience the production in the context of history.
That’s depth versus breadth in all its glory.
Head of School