A local Holocaust studies program taught to high school students in the Foothills School Division has been given high praise.

Alberta Minister of Education, Demetrios Nicolaides sent a letter congratulating them.  You can see the letter at the bottom of the page.

"I commend Foothills School Division on its efforts to provide students with the opportunity to learn more about the Holocaust and how it affects the world in current times. Thank you for your commitment to combatting antisemitism."

The letter couldn't be timelier as it was National Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th. You can read the entire letter here.

École Secondaire Highwood High School English Language Arts teacher Lindsay Anderson developed the three-level course in 2020 and she's been kept really busy sharing the LDC (Locally Developed Course) with many other schools.

"I've done a lot of work at different teachers conventions. This year alone I'm speaking at four different conventions getting the word out about the courses and just seeing them pop up like little flowers around our province. I think it's wonderful.

Two students who have taken Holocaust Studies 15, 25 and are currently in 35 said it's made a big impact on their lives.

Grade 12 student Brooke Smith and Sydney Fagervvik are both currently in the final course and both went on the grade 11 European trip where they went to Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp in Poland.

Smith said the course has been eye-opening.

"You first hear about it, it's one of those things that it just does not sound real.  And then the more you look into it and the more you research it and even having the privilege to go somewhere like Auschwitz and walk through it, it makes it so much more real. This entire course has made me realize not to take anything for granted and just be very grateful for everything. Looking back on it, the people that were affected, none of them saw it coming. Everything was taken from them. They were no longer free. So, being able to learn about this and being able to talk to people whose families have been affected by the Holocaust has really impacted me and made me become more thankful for things like my family and for being able to do everyday things like come to school, walk freely in the streets, and drive my car wherever I want and just do everyday things."

Fellow student Sydney Fagervik explains how the course has affected her. 

"I think at the start of the course going into 15-25, I didn't really know what I was walking into, how in-depth we were going to get but going throughout the course, especially since I was on the Europe trip it's definitely broadened my understanding of what they really had to go through. Especially seeing all the survivors and having them come in or people who had grandparents as a survivor, having them really going into it and then going into the Europe trip and being in places where we watched films on, that we discussed, kind of hit me hard."

Fagervik also added that it's impacted her immediate family as well.

"My brothers in grade 9 at this school and he has become very interested in it and he's planning to take the course."

Anderson started to develop the entire course from scratch in February of 2020 and had all three ready to launch by September.

"Part of the course is we start by talking about antisemitism in the past, and then we talk about current antisemitism throughout the courses but one of the things that amazes me and makes me very proud each year is that because we're talking about it and because students are learning about individuals who have experience it and had it happen firsthand to them, they seem to be a lot more cognizant of it happening around them and become increasingly emboldened and stronger in their ability to address it."

She offers up a very stark example of some of students taking action.

"Two years ago, we had a picnic table here at the school that was covered in swastikas, and I had a Holocaust Studies group of kids, and we went out initially just to talk about it. Just to look and say this is what's happening in our school and within half an hour those students had taken that picnic table, brought it over to the shop, talked to our woodwork teacher about getting some new planks and they rebuilt the picnic table and painted a beautiful image on top that was related to the Holocaust. And so, I think the students are taking it in and processing it, then I get to see what they come up with and it's been an incredible moment in my career to see students take that on and want to do better in our community."

Director of Student Learning 7-12 Doug Stevens added that the Foothills School Division has developed a number of courses that have been shared across Alberta.

"There's four actually currently developed by Foothills. There's this one (Holocaust Studies), there is 'All My Relations' which is a First Nations cultural program, there's the Aviation program, and one other."

The Holocaust Studies course has done so well it's kept Anderson busy sharing amongst her colleagues throughout Alberta.

"I've done a lot of work at different teacher's conventions. This year alone I'm speaking at four different conventions, getting the word out about the courses and just seeing them pop up like little flowers around our province. I think it's wonderful. I do it for my students and my community."

Letter from Alberta Minister of Education praising the Holocaust Studies course.
Letter from Alberta Minister of Education praising the Holocaust Studies course.