Every other fall, middle school students at Rehoboth Christian in Rehoboth, New Mexico, study the Second World War in depth. The multidisciplinary unit naturally includes a focus on history, but students also used literature, math, the arts, science, and conversations on ethics to develop a comprehensive understanding of the war and its aftermath.
In addition to studying the war’s leaders and battles, students read literature on the Holocaust, ranging from Nazi propaganda to the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. They also read The Green Glass Sea, a novel about the Manhattan Project (the building of the atomic bomb), which took place less than 150 miles from Rehoboth. This leads to discussions about the ethics of the atomic bomb as well as visits to the National Museum of Nuclear Science and History and the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, both in Albuquerque.
Students also create projects—models, displays, timelines, or other exhibits including scale models of war machines (tanks, jeeps, planes, weapons), events (D-Day), or places (concentration camps, Anne Frank's apartment, Pearl Harbor). Students love putting these together and displaying them in conjunction with a culminating concert/program they presented. The program, written several years ago, highlights the small pieces of hope that were evident; even though it was a tragic and terrible time, there were people involved that showed the light of Christ in their actions and life, including people who hid Jews and Father Kolbe, who offered his life in exchange for another prisoner’s life while incarcerated in Auschwitz.
“From the ethics surrounding the atomic bomb to the evil of the concentration camps, we made sure to not shield the students from the realities of WWII and discussed how difficult of a time it was for many people,” said Chris Huizinga, middle school principal and head teacher. “We made sure to also highlight the stories of faith, bravery, and commitment. A question that always comes up was ‘Why did God allow this to happen?’ Of course we don't know the answer, but we discuss this with the students and wrestle through the questions.”
Rehoboth Christian’s student population is 70 percent Native American, and the school has unique ties to World War II both in its proximity to atom bomb testing and connections to the Navajo code talkers, who were able to use the Navajo language to transmit coded messages for the Marines during the war. Navajo has a complex grammar and is spoken by very few non-Navajos. The code talkers were able to develop a code that was transmitted and translated quickly and that was never broken. Rehoboth Christian has a library and museum dedicated to the code talkers and their work. Decedents of the code talkers still live in or near Rehoboth. “Within our English class they go over the history of the code talkers and the important role they played in the war,” said Huizinga. “In years past we have had code talkers come talk to the students, but the past couple years have been difficult since there are only a handful still living. We have been able to get sons and daughters of code talkers to come in.”