La Vernia Junior High 8th graders joined forces with Navarro Intermediate School 5th graders Monday night to share what they’re learning.
But this was no science fair or school play. Instead, it was a lesson in tolerance.
“I tell them every day to find something today to change to make tomorrow better," said Navarro 5th grade teacher, Lisa Barry.
Barry has been sharing that with students for years after deciding to teach her class to accept each others differences by teaching the story of the Holocaust- particularly, children of the Holocaust. “Kids connect with kids,” she said.
Barry was determined to teach tolerance after experiencing the loss of a classmate who took his own life due to bullying when she was in high school.
But then Barry’s lessons became bigger than just her classroom when 8th grade La Vernia teacher Jennifer Cooper heard about it.
Cooper’s own children go to school with Barry’s children.
Coopers changed up the curriculum to meet 8th grade standards and says she’s already seen a change in her students.
"I’ve seen apologies in the classroom where they’re apologizing to each other. Kids that never speak have spoken,” Cooper said.
That’s an impact students have seen for themselves.
“They used to be very rude and mean and bully a lot of kids, and now they are way better," said 5th grader Micayla Haws of her classmates.
“People have really had their eyes opened that not everybody is like them and we have to learn to accept that because that’s just how we were made,” said 8th grader Danielle Maldonado.
On Monday night, the community gathered at La Vernia ISD’s Auditorium to hear the story of Inge Auebacher, a Holocaust survivor.
Barry’s students discovered Auebacher was a survivor after researching her in class.
She says her students were determined to find Auebacher and ask her to come speak to them. That first year, they raised the money for her trip. Every year since, her visit has been funded through a school grant.
Auebacher’s speech Monday was not just a lesson in history, but motivation for the future.
“If I can drop a pebble in the water, and each of those kids are doing that, maybe I can save somebody who might have to go through that sometime in their life,” said Barry.
As a continuation of this lesson, Barry’s class began collecting pennies in 2007 in a program called Pennies for the Persecuted.
Their goal when they set out was to collect 6 million pennies in honor of the millions of people killed during the Holocaust.
Cooper’s class is now part of effort.
So far, students have raised nearly 2 million pennies and counting. While the money has been donated to several charitable organizations, the majority goes to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Guadalupe County.