By SECC Correspondent Gail Desler
I’m Not Leaving: Valley High School Students Connect with Humanitarian Carl Wilkens
Students in Ben Johnston’s World Geography class at Valley High School recently had the opportunity to explore a difficult topic – genocide – through a Skype call with Carl Wilkens, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
Through a multimedia presentation that included Google Earth, his own photos, and clips from the I’m Not Leaving documentary trailer, Wilkens provided the students with a window into what he witnessed and experienced before, during, and after the 100 day genocide. Rather than focusing on accounts of neighbors turning on neighbors or the mass killings of thousands of innocent people, he emphasized the difference a group of people – or even a single person – can make by standing up against hatred and brutality.
The students also learned about the impressive recovery process Rwanda has been undergoing in the 22 years since the genocide. Wilkens shared examples of forgiveness and reconciliation that have helped transform Rwanda from chaos and ethnic divides (Hutu vs. Tutsi) to a united and rapidly modernizing nation. He encouraged the students to discuss and share examples from their own lives on the impact of a single act of kindness.
“The 90 minutes spent with Carl Wilkens transformed a geography lesson on Africa into a call for action. My students definitely got the message that they can make a positive difference in their own community as well as globally,” said teacher Ben Johnston. “They were also impressed by the use of videoconferencing and hope to see more classes tapping into this powerful tool for connecting beyond the classroom walls.”
Fellow Valley High School teacher Lauren Bottoms added, “Carl’s message that genocide is preventable is an important one. It can sometimes be difficult for students to relate to the staggering statistics that accompany any genocide. But the story of a single witness or survivor can bring a historical event to life.”
‘It was inspiring to see Mr. Johnston’s students actively engaged with Mr. Wilkens. The topic of genocide and more specifically the difference a small group of people or even an individual can make really resonated with students,” said Elk Grove USD Superintendent Christopher Hoffman.
The Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium is pleased to include the Valley High School videoconference with Carl Wilkens as part of a curriculum package to accompany the official release of the I’m not Leaving 40-minute documentary. The package also includes a lesson and teacher notes to complement the documentary, along with a photo journal by Elk Grove USD teacher Gail Desler, who traveled to Rwanda this past summer with Carl Wilkens. We hope this project will help transform a geography lesson on Rwanda to a thought-provoking unit of study.
For more information: http://bit.ly/TeachingRwanda