GAYVILLE — An estimated 1.5 million children died in the Holocaust during World War II, and some students from Gayville-Volin School are taking part in a project to help remember them.
Houston Holocaust Museum is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies for an exhibition scheduled for the spring of 2012, some of which will be provided by the Gayville-Volin eighth-graders, who are now completing a unit on the Holocaust.
The project will help the students to personalize what they have learned, Gayville-Volin instructor Jennifer Goettertz said.
"I think they can take away something besides the facts, the gory details, of the Holocaust, and can tap into the emotions involved and relate that to their own lives," she said. "(It's not) just looking at people in the past that they have no connection to. There's a way to help them make that connection to the ideas and the feelings that these kids felt."
Goettertz first learned of The Butterfly Project last summer at the Dakota Writing Project's Holocaust Institute, which was held at the University of South Dakota.
"This was just handed out to us as an idea to take back to our classrooms," she said. "So considering I'm teaching several junior high-level students and we're looking at about the same age ranges of the students who wrote and created the art that is now published in 'I Never Saw Another Butterfly,' I used that in a lesson."
"I Never Saw Another Butterfly" is a book that collects pictures and poems created by children who were sent to Terezin concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. More than 12,000 children under the age of 15 were sent there during a two-year period, 90 percent of whom were dead by the time the Holocaust was over.
The book's titular poem was what inspired the project, in which 21 Gayville-Volin eighth-graders took part.
There were only a few specifications the students had to follow:
• The butterflies could be no larger than 8 inches by 10 inches.
• They could be in any medium the student chose.
• The use of glitter was prohibited, as was the use of food products, such as macaroni or cereal.
Other than that, the students were free to design the butterflies as they wished.
For example, Rachel Pokorney made a paper butterfly, on which she wrote a poem. Keisha Henson constructed hers — a butterfly perched on a flower — out of wood.
"(I liked) that we could make our own design," Pokorney said.
"It was nice to come up with something different," Henson added.
Kourtney Christopherson said, "I started over on mine eight times because I kept messing up."
The Butterfly Project was incorporated into the Holocaust unit that is taught at Gayville-Volin each year.
"It was almost nine weeks that we spent (on the unit)," Goettertz said. "We first read the play 'The Diary of Anne Frank,' and then we read 'The Devil's Arithmetic,' and then we finished off with making the butterflies."
The butterflies must arrive in Houston by June 2011, so Goettertz said next year's students will also make them.
"It's something I can do next year, but may or may not be able to have an avenue for our butterflies besides just our own purposes after that," she said.
The project may be expanded, Goettertz said.
"Right now, just eighth-graders are involved," she said. "Currently, I'm teaching a Holocaust unit to my freshman English class, and this is a project that I anticipate doing with them, as well."
Goettertz said she may have gotten as much from teaching the unit as the students have in taking it.
"I think I've experienced some of the same emotions and the same connections, and it's been an experience where I could finally turn on that light bulb for my students," she said.
The Butterfly Project wasn't the only area of expansion in Gayville-Volin School's Holocaust education.
"Last summer, one of the assignments for the Holocaust Institute was to create a unit to teach and bring the Holocaust to the students," Goettertz said. "The eighth-grade unit hasn't changed for the most part, but the unit I'm working on with the freshmen (is brand-new). I'm focusing not only on the Holocaust, but also genocide in general, and taking a look at genocide in the past, today, and where do we go in the future."
As of 2008, Houston Holocaust Museum has collected an estimated 400,000 butterflies.
For more information about the museum and the project, visit http://www.hmh.org/.