Like many middle-school kids, Gracie Boyce was acquainted with the story of Anne Frank and her family’s desperate attempt to hide from Nazis in occupied Holland during World War II.
Now for the past six weeks, Gracie has explained the story to her fellow Dent Middle School students in even more detail as one of 18 “peer-docents” for a traveling Anne Frank exhibition.
Learning how to be a tour guide required about seven hours of instruction. “We did have training from people at the Anne Frank House,” the 12-year-old said.
The exhibition panels, on loan from the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam, detail Frank’s life from her relatively carefree young years to the terrible days of Kristallnacht, the 1938 “night of broken glass” when German Nazis destroyed and looted synagogues and Jewish businesses. That destruction set the stage for Hitler’s “final solution” to exterminate millions of Jews.
Students learned about restrictions imposed upon Jews such as the Franks, the transports to concentration camps and the Frank family’s decision to go into hiding in the upstairs annex above Otto Frank’s business. There, Otto Frank’s employees secretly supplied them with food, water and news of the war even as they were forced to maintain strict silence during the days so their whereabouts would not be revealed.
On Monday, Gracie was poised and knowledgeable as seventh-graders from Marianne Boyd’s social studies class filed into Dent’s multipurpose room and she prepared to lead a tour.
Here, she said, is Frank as a baby living in Frankfurt, Germany, and playing with friends. She tells them about the number of synagogues and businesses destroyed during Kristallnacht and then points to the Secret Annex, where Anne and her family — father Otto, mother Edith and sister Margot — lived along with four other Jews, Hermann and Auguste van Pels, and son Peter, and Fritz Pfeffer.
They lived there for more than two years, but were betrayed to the Nazis in August 1944 and deported to concentration camps, where all but Otto Frank was gassed or killed by starvation and typhus.
Gracie and the other student-docents say it is not hard to keep the attention of the middle-school children, who have walked through the exhibition for the past six weeks.
What is harder, said Marc Turner, a social studies teacher and head of The Learning Collaborative magnet program at Dent, is making sure all 1,300 Dent students have an opportunity to view the exhibition. It has been open to the public as well and will be open Tuesday, between 4-7 p.m., before the exhibition travels to other destinations around the state.
“For the most part they have been pretty attentive,” said Turner, who serves as site coordinator.
The exhibition, part of the Anne Frank Center USA, came to Dent through the efforts of Richland Northeast International Baccalaureate High School teacher Charles Vaughan and a member of his dissertation committee, USC education professor Doyle Stevick.
Stevick helped made arrangements for Vaughan, a social studies instructor, to spend part of his summer studying at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where he prepared curricula for teaching about Anne Frank.
Vaughan believes the exhibition raises awareness among students about power and injustice that can be translated to their own lives and help them become advocates for those who are bullied or ignored.
“These types of exhibitions have the potential to change a community and change the attitudes of a community,” Vaughan said. While the exhibit focuses on the Holocaust, he said it is also a “safe entry” point to talk about dark chapters in America’s own past.
Logan Randall, an eighth grader, said she believes peer-docents bring the story of Frank alive, because middle-schoolers are close in age and can relate to the hopes she expressed in her diary as she remained hidden. “I feel like we are talking with them as students,” Logan said. Holding court in front of groups of students, time and time again, didn’t faze her. “I’m one of those people who could talk on forever,” she said.
The students also became a little more sympathetic toward their teachers, who maintain classroom discipline as well as teach. Sam Liviti, 13, an eighth-grader who served as a peer-docent, said when a student group got a little rowdy, “I spoke loud so they could focus.”
Next, the exhibit will move to the Colleton County School District in Walterboro, Charleston County School District and Lugoff- Elgin High School in Kershaw County.