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Corona school relies on experiences to back lessons

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The program followed English teacher Frank Martino's class reading of "Night" by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and forms part of a schoolwide initiative to take a more hands-on approach to teaching literature and history, Principal Vivian Selenikas said.

In their first year at the school, Selenikas and Martino are working to expand on the school's programming by including more speakers and theater outings to connect students with the subjects they are studying.

For example, students in the junior English class will see "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway after reading it. And Martino's class is watching "The Pianist" for another perspective on the Holocaust.

"We're trying to make a linkage in terms of the pieces of literature and pieces of art (the students) are studying and put them in touch with real people who can answer questions," Selenikas said.

"We always read about the Holocaust, but then she came," Duran said of Prins, who knows Wiesel.

Over four class periods, Prins shared what it was like to watch other children clutching dolls as they were marched into the gas chambers. She spoke about being separated from her family, herded onto a cattle car and sent to the Auschwitz work camp in Poland.

She also spoke of the January 1945 "Death March" to Grossrosen in Poland, untreated illnesses, inadequate clothing, bullet wounds and beatings. She spoke of forced labor and being separated from her family, and she showed the students the number the Nazis had tattooed on her arm, "74934."

"They starved. They got shot in different places. They got harmed. They got treated like animals," said 15-year-old Corona native Valerie Rodriguez. "It's a miracle they're even alive now."

After Prins's visit, Martino had his students write essays in which they reflected not only on what Prins had told them but also on what they had learned.

"The writing I got from them, I was amazed," said Martino, who at his former Bronx high school invited speakers from a local agency that helps the blind to complement the students' study of "The Miracle Worker."

"At first, I was really confused," Carolyn Zapata wrote. "I couldn't believe there would be people so mean to have the power and guts to kill people and take their property away only to gain more power and just because they (Nazi) hated the Jews."

Carolyn said Prins' words helped her visualize what she had studied.

"During her visit, I was imagining everything she was saying," Zapata wrote. "I felt really sad but I don't think as sad as (Prins) feels now remembering something that happened to her when she was sent to those camps just when she was a little younger than us."

Valerie Rodriguez said she was amazed by Prins' spirit.

"She doesn't even feel hatred for the people who harmed her," she said. And "everywhere she goes, she feels at home." The message Rodriguez said she took away: "We're all the same. We all have blood."

"I saved this information in a little space in my mind and heart," Carolyn wrote, "so that one day if somebody asks me about the Holocaust I could say I met a real survivor of this horrible event in history."

Reach reporter James DeWeese by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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