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Anne Frank exhibit’s opening night draws large attendance

Posted: January 10, 2014 4:33 p.m.
Updated: January 13, 2014 5:00 a.m.

A large turnout of students, parents, faculty staff and community members marked a successful opening Thursday night at Lugoff-Elgin High School (L-EHS) of an international traveling exhibit focused on Anne Frank, whose diary chronicled her family’s attempts to hide from Nazis during World War II.

The exhibit opened at L-EHS with an introduction by former student Coy Gibson, a dramatic reading by L-EHS senior Michaela Miller and a presentation by Stover Middle School Social Studies teacher Sarah Spoto. L-EHS students acted as docents, or tour guides, for the exhibit, answering questions from attendees and relating their own connections to the learning experience.

Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendant Dr. Frank Morgan said he was “overwhelmed by the quality of the whole exhibition (including) the video, the kids in the class talking about human rights and the docents themselves. I was pleased with the turnout and seeing people from the community there. I’m hoping for even more turnout at the next two open houses.”

Morgan called the experience “just powerful.”

“Sarah Spoto’s presentation added to the whole thing,” he said. “I’d never heard her talk about it; goes to show you what’s possible when people work together. The video was unbelievable. It shows a clear picture in a very short time (of what Holocaust was like). This was a really important occasion for the school and the community.”

Spoto spoke about her relationship with Holocaust survivor Henry Silbersteain. Spoto recently published Silbertsteain’s memoir, Lost Childhood. She said she was thinking about choices, and noted that all in attendance had chosen to be there that night.

“This exhibit is a testament for those who can’t speak about the Holocaust … the people imprisoned at concentration camps lost their choices, their freedoms,” Spotos said. “The Nazis eliminated their opportunities for choices.”

Later, she commented on her perceptions of the exhibit and its impact upon students and community members.

“It was a wonderful show of support for the opening of the exhibit.  It was excellent to see a variety of people such as students, parents, teachers, staff and interested community members. The attendance alone was inspiring and it reflected the value of education upheld by the Kershaw County School District,” she said.

Spoto said the purpose of the exhibit was “to remember the Holocaust. The opening undoubtedly accomplished its mission.” For her personally, Spoto said the experience was sobering.

“It reminds me that there will come a day when Holocaust survivors will no longer be with us,” she said. “Thus it is imperative to listen and read about their stories of survival to educate future generations of this atrocity. Based on the conversations and questions asked at the event, I have no doubt our students and community members will continue to read and reflect on Holocaust.”

L-EHS senior Michaela Miller performed a dramatic reading from Frank’s journal, affectionately called “Kitty.” Michaela was also a docent for the event and was asked to read the selection from Frank’s diary because a teacher said she looked like Frank.

“It’s been a great learning experience overall,” Michaela said. “I learned more about Frank’s experience and what her family went through.”

Michaela’s mother, Julie, said she was grateful her daughter had the opportunity to be part of the exhibit.

“I’m also grateful that it’s been made possible for the community,” Miller said.

She said her father had served in World War II “in occupied Germany.” She said she’d grown up hearing stories from his past.

“I connect those stories to the actual history,” Miller said. “It’s had a real impact.”

Miller said she sees the exhibit and educational opportunities regarding the Holocaust as critical “so that something like that doesn’t ever happen again.”

Mark Sury, chairman of the L-EHS School Improvement Council, said he experienced “a sense of pride seeing the students’ accomplishments. I know Mr. Gladden’s proud.”

Principal Tommy Gladden said he was, in fact, very proud of his students.

“The thing I’m excited about is the student interaction,” Gladden said. “The posters and the videos don’t bring life to the exhibit. Our kids have jumped in as I never expected. I didn’t expect to see how much community interest we’ve gotten. The stories from community members have been amazing. Their experiences in Europe during the Holocaust are things we cannot lose.”

Gladden added that he “very much” appreciated what the community has done to spread the word about the exhibit, including “articles in the newspaper and (it being mentioned) on the radio.”

Another aspect of the exhibit included a display of window panes with quotes and depictions of watchful eyes.

“My thought was that nobody was safe from the peering eyes of the Gestapo,” said L-EHS art teacher Alan Riches, who developed a window pane exhibit. “In addition, they were symbolic that Anne Frank's life must have been absent of light at times both mentally and physically. The quotes were symbolic of looking into Frank's life, through the ‘windows of her mind,’ if you will.”

Kershaw County resident John Bailey had a unique view of the window pane display.

“As a veteran, I want my children to understand that everyone should have rights. Everyone deserves the same rights,” Bailey said. “No one should be persecuted because of their beliefs.”

L-EHS freshman Caroline Cook said she was benefitted by the experience because being a docent has made her a better leader.

“It’s helped me learn to speak to people,” she said.

Lugoff resident Regina McDonald and her daughter, Alyssa, said they were especially touched by the exhibit.

“We heard about this exhibit and we watched the Anne Frank movie on Netflix,” Regina McDonald said. “You hear about Anne Frank all the time, but this kind of thing is a good reminder of how it actually happened.”

She said Alyssa had named the Anne Frank film “her favorite movie” after watching it.

L-EHS Social Studies teacher Sharon White, who -- along with Gibson -- coordinated the exhibit at the school,  encouraged her students to make a relevant connection between the Frank exhibit and real world occurrences today. She offered extra credit to students in her class who wanted to present their projects during the exhibit. Matt Wells created a Prezi presentation and made a speech about human rights violations in Syria and Africa.

“I want to raise awareness,” Matt said.

Gunner Catoe, another of White’s students, investigated the topic of human trafficking.

“I did a Google power point about trafficking to answer the main questions people had,” Gunner said.

He created a Twitter account about trafficking and collected 100 followers in one day.

“I took the opportunity to spread the word and make a point,” he said.

Gunner said he followed senators, governors and Unicef on Twitter in an effort to share his message with more people.

“Everyone should be aware.”

The exhibit will be open to the public again Jan. 23 and Feb. 6, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Click here to see more pictures from the exhibit in Localife.

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