For two months, Cherry Hill students created butterflies for their schools to recognize Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, a first for the district.
As part of the project, Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche spoke with representatives from the Esther Raab Holocaust Museum and Goodwin Center for Education in Cherry Hill. The butterflies are on display at individual school district buildings.
“The butterfly project was started about 15 years ago at a Holocaust museum in Texas,” said Helen Kirschbaum, director of the museum and education center. “They had the idea that a good way for children to memorialize the 1.5 million children who were murdered during the Holocaust was to make butterflies, and it (the Texas effort) collected 1.5 million butterflies created by children around the world.
“Those butterflies are now on exhibits in different museums,” Kirschbaum said. “They travel around, but we continue to share the butterfly project because it’s a nice way for students even today to remember these children who were murdered.”
In each of the township’’s 19 schools, students participated in a number of ways: Some made paintings, others made ceramics or projects out of recycled materials. Kids at the Malberg Early Childhood Center traced their feet to create petal-like shapes for larger butterflies. The results were displayed at the Lewis Administration building before returning to Malberg.
On the day of the display, District Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction Allison Staffin released a 40- minute video offering context on the project and on Holocaust Remembrance Day. It featured interviews with Kirschbaum and school Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche; a survivor’s story; and the 1996 poem, “The Butterfly,” on which the student project is based.
“As I planned and thought about what this project meant – and this is the first time Cherry Hill public schools did it as a full-scale project – I thought it was really important to give some back story to the project for the community,” explained Staffin. “Kids come home and they bring a butterfly home … but there was a lesson behind that.
“ … I thought it was really important for our community as a whole to know that we as a community acknowledged this event in history, what it meant, what it meant for society as a whole worldwide, not just what it meant to be in Cherry Hill.”
In the video, Staffin noted that Jan. 27 is designated by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and that “the purpose of International Holocaust Remembrance Day is twofold: to serve as a date for official commemoration of the victims of the Nazi regime and to promote Holocaust education training throughout the world.”
Staffin also pointed out that while the district has previously acknowledged Holocaust Remembrance Day, this year’s butterfly project was the first district-wide attempt to engage the students at a deeper level.
“There was actually more prominent awareness this year because we really took that time to unpack it and ask [students] to do something with that information,” Staffin said.
Holocaust education is built into the township curriculum at all grade levels, and while there was less of a curricular piece to go with the butterfly project, Staffin remarked on how different age groups receive education at eye level.
In grades K through 2, the education is focused on “respecting ourselves and others.” In the upper elementary grades, students learn about the diversity found in themselves and others. Approaching middle school, they are taught about bullying, prejudice and racism, and in high school, they move on to the Holocaust, loss of lives and genocide.
“We wanted something we could do K through 12 that was meaningful,” Staffin said.
The butterfly exhibits are expected to remain up for the better half of the year, and Staffin anticipates continuing the project next year with a more curricular focus.
To view the video presentation of the project, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KBfyEqY8Ac.