Partners in the Arts, Richmond’s premier arts-in-education organization and a program of the School of Continuing Studies, funded a recent Henrico High School project that culminated in a dramatic production of The Diary of Anne Frank and generated school-wide interest in Holocaust education and issues of tolerance, social justice and empowerment.

Henrico High School received $8,000 for the “Understand Who You Are” program, which builds on Henrico Education Foundation’s “Teaching Tolerance and Empowerment across the Curriculum” initiative.

The proposal was submitted by Robert T. Rigler, chair of the History Department at the school. The two collaborating teachers were Todd Ritter of the Theatre Department and Dr. Stephanie Poxon, chair of the Center for the Arts.

History classes focused on the Holocaust, World War II and totalitarianism, with memoirs and historical fiction about these subjects taught in English classes.

Students read Diary of a Young Girl and Elie Wiesel’s Night in their English classes. Students in the US History and World History II classes visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum. In October, Holocaust survivors Bud and Sonia Brodecki were invited by the Henrico Drama Club to speak to the entire school community.

An art installation consisting of postcards designed by every student in the school was also highly effective.

The project culminated in a production of The Diary of Anne Frank, with theatre professionals working with students to train them in theatre arts. The play was directed by Ritter and produced by the Henrico High School Drama Club.

Ritter’s work in directing the production benefited from another School of Continuing Studies collaboration: The Alexander Lebenstein Teacher Education Institute at the Virginia Holocaust Museum. The week-long graduate program, hosted at the Virginia Holocaust Museum and underwritten, in large part, by Weinstein Properties, trains educators to teach issues of racism, genocide and holocaust in their classrooms.

In comments before the production, Ritter explained how participating in the Institute, and working with Rena Berlin, Director of Education at the Museum, helped him focus on significant themes as he and his colleagues approached the play and the wider tolerance project at the school.

Dr. Elizabeth Sheehan, director of Partners in the Arts, told Berlin after watching the production, “You and the Virginia Holocaust Museum had a significant impact on the [Partners in the Arts]-funded project this semester at Henrico High School... I am so pleased about this ‘cross-pollination’ of partnerships and hope that in the future there will be opportunities to do more of this.”

Berlin, who also watched the production, responded that “the kids were amazing, the set was breathtaking and [the Partners in the Arts] grant so well spent.”

Deana McGuire Buck, Project Director/Team Leader of Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University and a parent of one of the students who worked on the production, offered her thoughts on the value of the grant in a note to Sheehan:

“The whole process of preparing this piece, including an analysis of the horrifying realities of the Holocaust, was a most valuable learning experience... The funding from the Partners in the Arts played a significant role in this successful learning opportunity.”

Collaborative efforts among the School’s partners and programs is the best possible outcome of such partnerships, according to James L. Narduzzi, dean of the School of Continuing Studies. And when those partnerships involve educators and students, the benefits are incalculable.

“When Richmond’s premier arts-in-education organization joins forces with Virginia’s Holocaust Museum, the results can be life-changing. That the School of Continuing Studies is a common bond between the two organizations is both serendipitous and wholly appropriate. Our mission, after all, is to enrich lives and careers.”

For interested educators and schools, the Virginia Holocaust Museum is once again hosting the graduate-level Teacher Education Institute this summer with significant support from Weinstein Properties, and Partners in the Arts is in the midst of soliciting applications for funding for the 2011-2012 school year.