Teacher Feature: Erin Ross, Metis Beach School

When teacher Erin Ross began her genocide LES, over half of her Secondary 3-4-5 students didn’t know what “genocide” was. “When we were brainstorming at the beginning and I asked them a question about the holocaust, I had 9 out of 14 that had no idea what I was talking about,” she says.

Erin is an ELA/History/ERC teacher at Metis Beach School in Métis-sur-Mer, located on the Gaspé Peninsula. Through her genocide LES, her students have learned about the Holocaust and other major genocides such as Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia.

Erin is working with fellow teacher Stephen Kohner from Baie Comeau High School. One of the projects they are collaborating on is a literary magazine which will feature articles and other literary media created by their students. The magazine is set to be completed March 17, 2014.

“The reason I decided to speak about it [genocide] is that Stephen Kohner, the other teacher working on the project, and I, saw there’s nothing in our curriculum, even on the subject of the Holocaust. It isn’t mandatory in our curriculum,” Erin explained. They have also received assistance from school Principal Brett Mitchell, who recently attended the Freedom Writers Foundation in California.

With fewer survivors every year, Erin saw it as an opportunity to address an important issue that would have her students “sit up and think, and be challenged a little bit.” Her students have watched documentaries and films, read articles and even had a videoconference with Holocaust survivor Renée Firestone. Two additional videoconferences are scheduled: one with a Bosnian/Rwandan Canadian peacekeeper and the second with a survivor of the Bosnian genocide.

The response from students has been incredible. “I think I received the greatest compliment,” says Erin. “I had a student that said she thought it was the most important thing I had taught her. I’ve been teaching her since Sec 1 and she’s now in Sec 4.”

This same student went to Encounters Canada several weeks ago and met the peacekeeper that will be part of the future videoconference with the class. “She came to me and said, ‘I want to book this guy for our class.’ And I said, ‘of course!’”

Before starting the LES, Erin sent emails to parents and received great responses, saying they appreciated her covering genocide and her work with the students. Erin also said students are even teaching their parents a few things about genocide.

As for resources, Erin has been making use of the teacher’s guide materials from The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, movies such as Schindler’s List and The Killing Fields, kid-friendly websites and books from the Scholastic teacher store. “[The students] are a little bit amazed. I had one student say, “Whoa, I didn’t know you could watch a movie and actually learn something.”

Read 4 comments

  1. Thank you, Erin, for taking he time to write this blog. The Sec III-V students of Baie Comeau High School have benefited from the video-conference with Renee Firestone (thanks to Paule Langevin for picking up the cost!). I used the free app from the Montreal Holocaust Centre to explore the different displays (a fieldtrip to the Museum is out of the question, but a virtual tour was the next best thing!). Youtube has a wealth of testimonials and eyewitness accounts (another freebie).

    Two notes in particular:

    1. A secondary IV student, Vickie, read Montreal author Monique Polak’s book “What World is Left”. The book is based upon her mother’s experience during The Holocaust, a story she had kept to herself for 60 years. I had met Monique at a Blue Met Literary Festival student workshop in Montreal a few years ago (supported by Eastern Shores School Board). I took a chance and contacted her to see if she would be willing to do a SKYPE interview with Vickie. Sure enough… she consented and they chatted for half an hour. Vickie used the interview to write her feature article. I was so thrilled and Vickie was pleased with the questions and answers and the one-to-one interaction with Monique. You can read Monique’s blog at .

    2. There are a number of films for teachers to present in class. Schindler’s List, Shake Hands with the Devil, Hotel Rwanda, and The Killing Fields are some, to name a few. There might be a temptation for teachers to show the films in their entirety. I chose a different, more effective method – I previewed them and showed excerpts. The excerpts, then, are focused on the topics, ideas, events, people, and insights into genocides. I certainly found it a better use of instructional time. It is more work, but with limited class time, it is a best practice I will continue with.

    Our student literary magazine should be published by mid-April (I will be working on it with Erin…). It is a lot of work, but it will be reflective of the students learning and insights.

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