Powerful History Class In Demand By WHS Students

“I felt every day that there was a real reason for me to go to school.”


Several Westborough High School seniors are determined not to let history repeat itself after taking a course which at least one of them recently called “eye-opening.”

The course, Facing History and Ourselves, is an elective taught by Gregory Gallagher, who said he is currently teaching it for the fourth year. It is different in that it focuses on reflection and discussion rather than test scores.

“The Facing History and Ourselves curriculum uses historical case studies, like the Holocaust, to show students how human behavior plays a critical role in shaping history,” according to a letter sent to parents by the Westborough Friends of Facing History and Ourselves Foundation. The group raises funds to support this curriculum.  

Sondra Bloch, president of the foundation, said the group is in its third year of existence and has three main goals: to train teachers in the curriculum, to bring speakers and presenters to the schools and community, and to provide scholarships.

Bloch and others met Wednesday night at the home of Mary Anne Bryant, the foundation’s secretary, and listened to students who have taken the course describe how it has affected them.

“I felt every day that there was a real reason for me to go to school,” senior Jess Belliveau said of the course, adding that the class “creates a positive environment at the high school” and helped her evaluate her morals and daily decisions.

“The class is like an emotional rollercoaster” said senior Brian Doran, who also serves as vice president of the school’s Facing History and Ourselves Club.

Doran said students see some sad and horrible things while studying the Holocaust and often feel anger. It’s too late to go back and change history, he said, and that is why people have to start now to make changes and ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

The class teaches students that the choices they make are important, Bloch explained, even on a smaller scale such as walking by a bullying situation and sticking up for the student being bullied.

“The kids who take the class, it really carries with them throughout the day,” said Max Bloch, Sondra’s son and president of the school’s Facing History and Ourselves Club.

The purpose of the course is more personal reflection than learning facts and being tested on them, according to Doran, who called the class “eye-opening.”

Four significant terms which are repeated throughout the course are 'bystander,' 'perpetrator,' 'resistance' and 'victim,' he said.

“They and I go on a journey together where they get to learn about themselves,” Gallagher said of his students. “They are allowed to really experience the horror of the Holocaust.”

According to Gallagher, there are 120 seats split among the sections taught of the course, but 200 students tried to sign up. This resulted in students being turned away, which is something he doesn’t like to see happen. The course is currently offered to juniors and seniors.  

Max Bloch said he would like to see anyone who wants to take the class be able to do so. Others at Wednesday night’s event, including Gail McBride who is treasurer of the Westborough Friends of Facing History and Ourselves Foundation, said they feel every student should be required to take the course.

“It is that powerful. It is that empowering,” she said. “The course is beginning to change the culture of the school.”

According to the Westborough foundation’s president, the course is required for ninth-graders in Hudson.

So far, the group has given out three $1,000 scholarships to students who have taken the course. It is also planning to bring Terrence Roberts of the Little Rock Nine to speak at Gibbons Middle School in May.

Last year, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide spoke at the high school through the Facing History Club and the Darfur Alliance.

For more information, visit Facinghistory.org.


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Bruce Tretter February 21, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Great class and fantastic way to make history connect with living every day to its fullest!
Tim Dodd February 21, 2012 at 06:50 PM
I have heard so many great things about this class from students, parents, and community members. WHS students are incredibly lucky to have such a great course!


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