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SMHS students benefit from cultural opportunities

By AMY PARTAIN
06/02/2017 | Comments

COLORADO SPRINGS. It’s been said that experience is the best teacher. That is why teachers at St. Mary’s High School incorporate speakers and trips into their curriculum. Hearing about history from those who lived it or being immersed in a language you are studying in school goes beyond what a book can teach. These opportunities provide students with a chance to connect to people outside their normal social circle.

Last month, history teacher Anna Sanzo had Phillis Shimamoto speak to her classes about Japanese internment camps. Shimamoto’s father and his family were forced to relocate to a camp in Arizona when her father was 15. Shimamoto told students that she began giving her presentation “Life Behind Barbed Wire: The Long Term Fallout of the Incarceration of Japanese Americans” two years ago.

“This is a personal story for me,” she said. “My father is now 90, and I tell his story so that hopefully it doesn’t happen to another nationality or group. Very few, if any, of these people had loyalty to Japan. Most of the Japanese Americans, like my dad, had never been to Japan.”

Shimamoto explained that her father was born in the United States and grew up in San Diego where his family farmed. Growing up, he ate pizza and hamburgers just like teens today, and rarely ate Japanese food.

“Once Executive Order 9066 was issued, all Japanese people had to move 50 to 100 miles inland because the government said they were concerned about espionage, thinking Japanese Americans were spies,” Shimamoto said. “My dad’s family was lucky because they had one week to get ready for the move; many families only had 24 to 48 hours.”

In May 1942, 120,000 Japanese Americans and their families were moved to internment camps throughout the middle US. Once such camp was located in Granada, Colorado. They were allowed only one suitcase per person and not allowed to take any other possessions. Shimamoto described life in the camps to the students. These camps provided little comforts and almost no privacy. Curtains separated families, who slept on cots and shared communal bathrooms. Her family would spend three-and-a-half years in the camp in Arizona, before they were each given $25 and a one-way bus ticket home.

“My dad’s family was fortunate that their neighbor took care of their farm and vehicle. They were able to resettle,” Shimamoto said. “I want each of you to remember that we are not what happens to us. Be careful with your words. How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you as a person.”

Sanzo said she encourages her students to seek out primary and secondary sources for information since it is from those with experience that you hear the most detail. She said she felt it was especially important for the students to hear about this part of history that merits only a paragraph or so in most history books.

“My students think that if there is so little mention in the history books, it must not be that important,” she said. “The students often feel so removed from events in history, yet this part of history happened in their state. Anytime they can hear from someone who was affected, they gain a better understanding of the impact those events had on people’s lives.”

Spanish language students have had a couple of chances in recent months to be immersed in the language they are learning. First, in early March, Spanish teacher Christine Baldwin took her Spanish 1 classes on a field trip to a local Mexican market where the students used their conversational skills to do a bit of shopping and enjoy a meal from the restaurant there — all in Spanish. Then later that month, Gustave Nader, chair of the foreign language department, took a group of St. Mary’s students to Argentina. This was the fifth trip Nader has taken with St. Mary’s families.

“For many, this experience opens them up to a world outside of their own culture and they want to see more,” Nader said. “Everything from the food and customs to the ways of looking at the world are different and foreign travel can do this in ways that are impossible to do in a classroom.”

The St. Mary’s group experienced a lot during their week trip. They saw a tango show, visited a working gaucho ranch, took part in weekend festivals unique to Argentina, and flew in country from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazu, which is a small town on the border of Argentina and Brazil. 

“The setting changed from city life to tropical jungle,” Nader said. “We spent two days in an amazing hotel complex with swimming pools and a soccer field where the students even played a game of soccer. They were able to see Iguazu Falls, which are several big and small falls all located in a jungle setting. On the second day, we did a boat ride that took us into the falls where everyone got soaked!”

Although the St. Mary’s students had many incredible experiences during this trip to Argentina, Nader said one of the most special parts of the trip for the students was bonding with students at an Argentine school called Colegio San Martin, which is a private school like St. Mary’s.

“Our kids shadow an Argentine student for the day,” he said. “It is amazing to me how quickly they make friends. On our last day of our trip, many of the Argentine kids they had met came to say goodbye, walking with us as we boarded the bus to go back to Buenos Aires international airport. Many of our kids are still communicating with their new Argentine friends.”

Nader said that on every trip he takes with St. Mary’s students the group makes an effort to attend Mass in the country they are visiting. This provides them the unique experience of worshiping with fellow members of their faith but in a completely different culture.

And each year, teacher Tena Jelinek uses local trips to enhance her students’ education. During the school year her theology classes visit the Mizel Museum in Denver. And in the summer she takes once a week trips with her Art Appreciation students to a variety of venues around Colorado Springs. These venues include Colorado College for architecture, Van Briggle Pottery and Tile, the Pioneer Museum, and the Colorado Fine Arts Center.

“Experiential education deals with hands-on, direct experience,” Jelinek said. “The Mizel Museum provides a lived experience of Judaism, what we study in the Old Testament. Art Appreciation students study art history, art periods, and the context of the world of the artist in that particular time and place. Our experiential education trips engage students with visual and tactile experiences to enhance what we are learning in the classroom.”

Jelinek said that during the Mizel Museum trip, students visit a synagogue, hear the Hebrew language spoken, and see plates, utensils and other items related to Jewish feasts and traditions (Seder plates, Sabbath candles, Jewish calendars, etc.). In experiential education trips such as to the Mizel Museum, Jelinek said students come to learn the context of the Jewish world of Christ, and then better understand how Jesus prayed, biblical symbolism, the intent of the authors of Scripture, and the context of his world. 

“I hope to whet the intellectual and spiritual appetite(s) of my students so that they will feel compelled to explore and learn more — hopefully, for his or her entire lifetime — to gain a passion for the subject matter in order to become students for life,” she said.

(Amy G. Partain is communications associate for St. Mary’s High School.)


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