Posted Date: 02/08/2024
Wantagh Middle School eighth graders experienced history like they never have before. On Feb. 2, they attended a performance in the high school auditorium of “Conversations With Anne,” a one-act solo show featuring excerpts from “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Actress Bre Tomey portrayed Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who spent two years in hiding during the Holocaust and kept a diary about life in the Secret Annex. Her diary was later found, given to her father and published. Every year, Wantagh eighth graders read, study and act out “The Diary of Anne Frank” in English language arts classes, in addition to studying World War II in social studies.
Reading teacher Dr. Ariel Adrian coordinated the performance of “Conversations With Anne” from the Anne Frank Center USA. It was funded by grants from the Wantagh Foundation for Educational Excellence and the Mark Schonwetter Holocaust Education Center, named in honor of a Holocaust survivor. She also used the grant funds to purchase additional Holocaust education books for the school.
Dr. Adrian explained that the performance helped the students better understand the historical context behind the book. The knowledge they gained will enrich classroom discussions as their immersion into Anne Frank continues.
“It allows them to feel a deeper sense of empathy about this person we are studying, who isn’t a character in a book but an actual girl,” Dr. Adrian said. “It helped the students comprehend that this was a real event.
Because World War II was eight decades ago, there are few Holocaust survivors who can come to schools and speak to students. Performances like “Conversations With Anne” are another way to make an impact on the historical significance of the Holocaust.
“This is a teaching artist that studied Anne Frank for a living,” Dr. Adrian said of Ms. Tomey, noting the historical accuracy of her performance as well as her attention to detail. “Allowing the students to see this live performance makes everything we do in the classroom feel so much more real for them.”
Following her performance, Ms. Tomey stayed in character and answered student questions as Anne Frank, based on her deep understanding of the diary. She and Alexandra Gellner, associate director of education for the Anne Frank Center, then took questions about the performance.
Dr. Adrian explained that teaching about the Holocaust is a heavy topic, but is purposeful. Teachers want students to emerge from the unit with a greater sense of acceptance, empathy, inclusivity and respect.
“We want to inspire our students to treat people well,” she said.