Streamwood High students create temporary genocide museum

When 16-year-old Anya Landrowski visited the Holocaust museum in Skokie last fall, it sparked a sense of empowerment she hadn't felt before.

"I was kind of blown away," said the Streamwood High School sophomore, a member of the school's new Be the Change club that helped create a temporary genocide museum in the school's library last week. "I had to make a difference in the world. My whole life, I've kind have been rolling with the tides. It made me want to be a leader."

Sixty-nine sophomores enrolled in the Advanced Placement world history and global studies class at the school helped create the museum for Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Hundreds of visitors, including families, community members and roughly 500 students, perused its exhibits during the two days the museum was open.

Students created 18 projects raising awareness of massacres resulting from national, ethnic, religious or racial animus. They set up display areas explaining and honoring the victims and "upstanders" of six genocides during the 20th and 21st centuries - the Holocaust, Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.

Sophomore Yesenia Gonzzalez, 15, said she was unaware of the massacres of 100,000 Bosnian Muslims and Croatians from 1992 to 1995 and called it the "forgotten genocide."

She wanted to make other students aware of what she had learned through the project and let them know "you can prevent them from happening."

Among the displays was a gallery providing examples of people who intervened and stood up in defense of others being persecuted in various conflicts. Visitors also could gather at the "action lab" to sign pledges against genocide, donate to Save the Children, and discuss current issues in schools, the community and nation.

"It was so eye-opening," said sophomore Edgar Crespo, 15, of researching and learning about various genocides he never knew occurred. "You learn so much about how to be an upstander. I wanted to be able to make an impact in the school, even if it was just one person."

Students hope the museum will cause a ripple effect of change and be reproduced each year in April.

"There's ways to make a difference beyond (stopping genocide)," said social studies teacher Jaimee Shearn, who created a six-minute video for the exhibit.

In years past, Shearn's students have done classroom projects on genocide on a much smaller scale. This year, the goal was to make the museum accessible to everyone and encourage students "to think of themselves as the change," she said.

Students researched their topics for nearly four weeks and tried to emulate the Skokie Holocaust museum by creating artifacts, educational display boards and websites.

"I think it's definitely something we can continue and maybe even scale up a bit," Shearn said. "Our goal is to hopefully turn this into an online collection."

  Laura Dietrich, 16, checks out the “Who do you want to be?” display at Streamwood High School's library. Students in the school's Advanced Placement world history and global studies class and the Be the Change club created the museum for Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month. Brian Hill/
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