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 lessons from the Holocaust | Western Kentucky University Skip to main content


Grant partnership will share
 lessons from the Holocaust

  • Author: Monday, May 15th, 2017
Grant partnership will share
 lessons from the Holocaust

Murals depicting scenes from the Holocaust are displayed in the Kentucky Museum on the campus of Western Kentucky University during October 2015. A second grant from the Hewish Heritage Fund for Excellence will allow the murals and their message to be spread throughout Kentucky and beyond. (Photo by Sam Oldenburg)

A new grant has enabled a partnership that will spread a powerful message of embracing diversity throughout Kentucky and beyond.

The $72,000 grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence builds upon a previous grant that centered on a collection of murals depicting scenes from the Holocaust. The murals have been created by gifted seventh through tenth graders during the Summer Program for Verbally and Mathematically Precocious Youth (VAMPY) at Western Kentucky University since the mid-1990s.

The project pools expertise of The Center for Gifted Studies at WKU, The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, and Kentucky Educational Television (KET) to further spread the important lessons conveyed through the murals in three primary ways.

The mural exhibit will tour Kentucky, going to Louisville, Danville and Bowling Green, in conjunction with The Kentucky Center’s Bearing Witness project, which includes Holocaust partner schools in all three cities.

A companion curriculum with lesson plans and teacher resources will be developed by Holocaust education specialists and arts educators selected by The Kentucky Center. Resources will be disseminated online by KET using PBS LearningMedia, which is used by teachers throughout Kentucky, as well as nationally.

Students put the final touches on the 2015 VAMPY Holocaust mural on the last day of VAMPY, July 10, 2015. Alumni of the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust class will be invited back to campus Tuesday, July 11, 2017.

Students put the final touches on the 2015 VAMPY Holocaust mural on the last day of VAMPY, July 10, 2015. Alumni of the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust class will be invited back to campus Tuesday, July 11, 2017. (Photo by Sam Oldenburg)

KET will also produce a video documenting the creation of the VAMPY mural this summer, as well as the oral history of faculty and former students who created the murals.

KET Senior Director for Education Tonya Crum said that the curriculum and video will be a strong addition to PBS LearningMedia.

“We look forward to sharing the impressive work of these students across the state,” she said. “The murals and the history behind them will provide engaging and thought-provoking classroom content for educators as part of our PBS LearningMedia repository.”

The Kentucky Center’s Senior Director of Education and Community Arts, Jeffrey Jamner, is also excited by the expanded audience for both Holocaust and arts education.

“We are thrilled that the messages communicated in these extraordinary murals will now reach a much broader audience throughout our state,” he said. “The VAMPY murals exemplify the power of the arts in deepening student engagement and learning, and providing more ways for them to demonstrate and express their understandings.  This partnership, funded by the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, brings together the unique strengths of three great institutions, resulting in even greater collective impact.”

The strength of that partnership is something that delights Julia Roberts, the executive director of The Center for Gifted Studies, as well.

“The partnership with the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and KET is valuable for creating the educational materials to accompany the murals,” she said. “The grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence allows The Center for Gifted Studies to share the murals and their compelling messages with audiences of all ages.”

Students examine the VAMPY Holocaust murals during an exhibition at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville. The murals were displayed in conjunction with performances of the play

Students examine the VAMPY Holocaust murals during an exhibition at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in Louisville. The murals were displayed in conjunction with performances of the play "And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank" throughout the month of February 2016. (Photo by Sam Oldenburg)

The murals were created as part of VAMPY’s Nazi Germany and the Holocaust class taught by Bowling Green High School teacher Ron Skillern. The class chronicles the rise and fall of the Nazi Party, focusing on its use of propaganda and the danger of being a spectator in the face of atrocity, and concludes with an examination of present-day manifestations of racism in both Europe and America. More than 350 students have taken part in the course since it began in 1992.

For Skillern, the 2017 Kentucky Teacher of the Year, looking back at the collection of murals has been an opportunity to reflect on many years of teaching at VAMPY.

“For me it’s the experience of actually making it,” he said. “I see the discussions that go into making it. I see the kids that are now (some of them) well into their thirties who worked on this.”

Lauren Simons (left) of London, Ky., and Malcolm Jones of Louisville paint the 2016 VAMPY Holocaust mural Friday, July 15, 2016. More than 350 students have taken part in the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust course since it began in 1992.

Lauren Simons (left) of London, Ky., and Malcolm Jones of Louisville paint the 2016 VAMPY Holocaust mural Friday, July 15, 2016. More than 350 students have taken part in the Nazi Germany and the Holocaust course since it began in 1992.(Photo by Sam Oldenburg)

VAMPY alumni who studied Nazi Germany and the Holocaust will be invited back to campus July 11 to celebrate the history of the murals, as well as to speak with KET for the video production.

The Center for Gifted Studies at WKU serves gifted children, their parents and educators through a variety of opportunities and resources. 2017 will mark the 34th summer for VAMPY. A list of classes offered this summer, applications and more information about the program can be found at www.wku.edu/gifted/vampy.

For more information, contact Sam Oldenburg at samual.oldenburg@wku.edu or 270-745-3014.


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