Hey y’all! It’s me, Andrea Runnels of www.thesocialstudieswhisperer.com, back one final time to bring you the letter W for Whitwell, Tennessee!
I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my favorite sites in the southeast during the Summer A-Z! My other posts in the series included the Breman Museum, Chickamauga Battlefield, and Kennesaw Mountain. I’m a former 5th grade teacher who is clearly passionate about sharing the love of American History.
Back during my classroom days, my favorite subject to teach was obviously Social Studies. And the problem is much of history is not flowers and rainbows. Topics such as slavery with The Civil War and The Holocaust can be very upsetting for kids.
I always suggested my students write about their feelings or find a creative outlet such as art or music if they are feeling overwhelmed. One school in Tennessee took their study of The Holocaust one step farther due to the kids wanting to do something more back in 1998. And Whitwell Middle School’s project turned into something amazing, The Children’s Holocaust Memorial. It’s an international symbol for peace and empathy and the power of community.
When thinking about the amount of lives lost during this tragedy, students were struggling to envision what 6 million of something actually looked like. After doing more research, students learned that Norwegian citizens wore paper clips on the lapel of their shirt as a way to show their solidarity for the Jewish people during WWII.
Students began bringing in paper clips and sent letters requesting more. Word of the project spread and the students began receiving them and more than 30,000 letters and mementos from all around the world to go with them.
The students needed a way to display the paper clips and they knew it had to be something unique and that’s how the idea of a German rail car came about. These were very hard to come by because the Germans destroyed most of them after WWII.
You can learn more about the story in the Paper Clips Project documentary or by visiting the Whitwell Middle School site. Back during the spring of 2016, I decided to visit Whitwell on a whim while on the way back home from a conference in Murfreesboro.
My advice is to plan ahead if you want to be able to see the museum and pay attention to details on the school’s website. I didn’t realize it was literally right in front of the school in a very small southern town. That means things aren’t open like they are in metro Atlanta, especially on the weekends.
I also found conflicting info online which resulted in me going on a wild goose chase for the key to no avail! So let my cautionary tale help you! I finally just went with peeking through the fence and capturing what pictures I could. And just seeing the rail car and knowing it was used to transport Jewish people to concentration camps was a very sobering experience.
The memorial is beautifully constructed with mosaic butterflies surrounding it as a symbol of renewal. The Breman Museum features a powerful Holocaust exhibit but it leaves one with a sense of heartbreak. The Children’s Holocaust Memorial left me feeling inspired and I think it’s a must-visit for upper elementary aged children and beyond.
I was so moved by how the entire thing started with a class project and it too something horrible and put a different spin on it. Kids should know that what they do matters and who knows? One of your children’s projects or a family activity could be the start of something revolutionary as well!
Here is the replay of a Periscope broadcast I did while at the memorial in March 2016: https://youtu.be/kSzFSJr6CmI
Andrea Runnels is a quirky former 5th grade teacher and mom from metro Atlanta who prides herself on her creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. She’s passionate about writing, graphic design, social media, American History, talking, and being an advocate for English Language Learners, and most importantly a champion for kids with ADHD. It only takes one person to believe in a kid to change their life. She aspires to be that beacon of hope for as many kids as possible. Stay connected with all her endeavors on the official Social Studies Whisperer Facebook page!
Love this idea? See our complete list of Summer Activities A-Z here. It begins June 1, 2017…and my incredible blogger friends like Kathy will share a new idea every other day throughout the entire summer.
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