For the past few weeks, students in Sunaina Sharma’s Grade 11/12 English class at M.M. Robinson High School have been studying Elie Wiesel's novel, Night.
Throughout the study of the book, which examines Wiesel’s experience in the Holocaust, Sharma has been asking students how they can make the world a better place.
In mid-October, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh suffered a deadly mass shooting. Invoking the theme of empathy in the Night novel, Sharma came up with the idea of creating a memory book to send to the congregation.
“I knew I wanted to share the event with my students because it touched on much of the issues, content and ideas that had emerged while we were reading Night,” she said. “I told my class that a creative task with a written component was part of the class unit. I asked students if they would be willing to put together a book that we could send to the synagogue expressing our sympathies. There was an overwhelming desire to create the book.”
Each student created a one-page message in the book, which is filled with visual and written pieces that convey messages of love, peace and hope. The book was created last week and mailed to the congregation in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“This task highlights for my students that when we read or hear the news, there are actions that we can take rather than be passive consumers of media,” Sharma says. “I've talked a lot about the word indifference. If we heard about this story and were saddened and angered by the hate shown, then we cannot be silent; we need to do something. It was important for me to pause and honour the theme of the book.”
Sharma hopes students have learned that the world is connected in many ways and that they have an opportunity to make it better.
“I want students to see that making the world a better place starts with the small things we do and it doesn't require a grandeur or expensive endeavour,” she says. “I want students to see that what we do in English class has a connection to the world beyond the classroom."
Student Madison Redding created a page highlighted by a Jewish star with a lifeline and a heart.
“I’ve learned that even though we don’t know how they feel, we feel empathy for them, the sadness for them. You want to do as much as you can to help them. This is a good way to show them that people around the world are looking out for them and do care for them.”