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Violins of Hope program ties in with 7th grade reading unit

Violins of Hope program ties in with 7th grade reading unit
Zachary D'Amico
Image of students interacting with one of the violins.

“Violins of Hope” is a series of programs in which musicians play a private collection of violins, violas and cellos all collected since the end of World War II. Each instrument has a unique emotional history that tells a story of perseverance and hope. 

On Oct. 23, seventh-grade students at HMS were visited by “Violins of Hope Greater Pittsburgh” and had the privilege of hearing from guest speaker Christopher Edmonds. His father, Master Sergeant Roderick Edmonds, has been recognized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel for his heroics in saving approximately 200 lives during World War II.

During WWII, Sgt. Edmonds found himself and his unit captured by Nazi soldiers and taken to a prison camp. A month later, when asked by his captors to identify and surrender the American soldiers in the unit who were Jewish, he bravely refused, insisting that they were all Jewish. This act of solidarity aimed to protect the Jewish soldiers from being sent to concentration camps.

“Christopher shared his father's story and discussed the challenges of making seemingly impossible choices, emphasizing why such decisions are necessary to support those who cannot stand up for themselves,” said Melissa Survinski, HMS Enrichment Teacher. “Additionally, a violin from the exhibit was transported to the middle school, where a few violinists performed for our students after they heard Christopher's father's inspiring story.”

Seventh-grade students at HMS also learned powerful lessons in empathy and perseverance in their reading class through a unit on the novel Refugee by Alan Gratz. This historical fiction novel follows three young people who embark on harrowing journeys in search of refuge, all while facing unimaginable dangers, yet holding onto hope for tomorrow. 

One of the stories in Refugee follows Josef, a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world. In the story, Josef and his family escape Germany during the Night of Broken Glass. As they journey to Paris, they're captured by Nazi soldiers who demand Josef’s mother choose which child will remain with her and who will be sent to a concentration camp. Josef selflessly volunteers to go, not wanting his sister to grow up without their mother.

“And since Josef has to make that impossible choice for the sake of somebody else, it ties really nicely to the story that Christopher tells us about his father,” said Survinski. 

Janeen Bentz and Loriann Palmer teach seventh grade reading at HMS. Both teachers believe that the Refugee unit and Violins of Hope program will build on the empathy and perseverance competencies in Hampton’s Portrait of a Talbot.  

"The Violins of Hope program will help build on the empathy component of our Portrait of a Talbot, as students can see the violins in person and hear personally from people who were directly impacted by the Holocaust, so it’s going to bring the event to life,” said Bentz. 

Palmer noticed that her students connected with the stories and expressed interest in the unit. 

“They liked the stories because it was about three children who were their ages, and they could put themselves in their shoes,” said Palmer. “So the empathy piece was significant, as well as critical thinking and decision making.”

In addition to Josef’s story, Refugee tells the stories of Isabel, a Cuban girl in 1994, and Mahmoud, a Syrian boy in 2015, who both seek refuge from their respective countries.

“They are all from different areas and time periods, but it all comes together in the end where we get to compare their experiences in class,” said Palmer.