History lessons have long lived two-dimensionally on the pages of scholastic textbooks. The digital age is changing that—especially at the STEM School and Academy in Highlands Ranch, a K-12 charter school that focuses its curriculum on science, technology, engineering, and math. This week, the school’s middle-schoolers are bringing their lessons on the Holocaust to life by creating a virtual reality museum.
The seventh graders at STEM have learned about the Holocaust from different perspectives in all their classes throughout the year, from talking about Nazi propaganda in art class to genetics in science class. The resulting virtual museum took several weeks to create, and showcases artifacts and stories of those who experienced the historical tragedy. The student-produced work will be on display to the public Monday, May 22 and Tuesday, May 23 in the school’s elementary gym.
STEM’s seventh grade teachers have been producing this cross-curricular Holocaust project for several years, but this year is the first to incorporate virtual reality headsets. The experience helps viewers feel as if they are in an actual museum, according to language arts teacher Erin Christian. In her language arts class, Christian’s students have each chosen a “Holocaust Hero,” someone who helped saved Jews or led an uprising at a concentration camp. Each student has written a narrative from the point of view of their Holocaust Hero, which will be on display, along with photos of that person.
“The students are so passionate about doing justice to the narrative and they want it to be accurate and well done,” Christian says. “It’s been very moving for a lot of them. I feel like it really helps to raise their consciousness of world events and our place in the world.” As part of the showcase, the students have invited 95-year-old Denver resident and Auschwitz survivor Fanny Starr to tell her story. Starr will be present to answer questions and show personal items from her life in Poland. The students will also sing an original song for Starr titled, “One Voice Can Change the World,” composed in their music class and inspired by their experience working on the project.
Christian says the project has broadened the students’ perspectives on the tragedy and on injustices in society, both modern and historical. “The kids are really great at making those connections and they take it to heart,” she says. “You notice that they start to exhibit a lot of those upstanding behaviors and kindness in their everyday lives here at school.”
If you go: The virtual Holocaust museum will be open May 22 and 23 starting at 3:30 p.m. in the STEM School and Academy elementary school gym, 8773 S. Ridgeline Blvd, Highlands Ranch.