West Bend students try to process the Paris attacks
By Lauren Sorensen, Editor in Chief
The global community stopped and watched in horror as the events unfolded last Friday in Paris. The world joined together to show support, and the West Bend High Schools both felt the shock waves of terror and the desire to gain understanding.
Conversations to digest Friday’s events fit into the curriculums of French teacher Christie Fischer and social studies teacher Tony Zappia.
Fischer saw a particular desire in her French students to gain a better understanding of the events, share discussion, and display support in class Monday. She had received emails over the weekend from students both expressing concern for Madame’s friends in France and expressing shock and horror.
Fischer began researching the events and found articles at levels appropriate for French 3, 4, and 5. “I decided to just kind of scrap my lesson plans and go ahead and do some changed lesson plans around this topic,” Fischer said.
Every Monday Zappia sets a time for both his US History class and his War and Peace class to discuss current events. “It’s very important to me that on Monday you spend the first 10 to 20 minutes talking about things that are happening in the world around us. Part of social studies is contemporary,” Zappia said.
Zappia explained that for his US History classes his focus was who ISIS is, what they want, why they do what they do, and what it means to be a terrorist.
For War and Peace students, the conversation was much different. “They already know who ISIS is, so for something like this the conversation is much more in-depth,” Zappia said. “The conversation is not about why, we know why and we know who, the question is okay, how does that change the climate, how does that change the fight against terror, how does this change our viewpoint of our role in this?”
Zappia explained that sometimes student reactions are not shock and horror.
“You have to understand, violence, we are kind of immune to in this country. I use the word immune because it does not affect us. Example, okay, earthquake in Mexico, kills 1,200 people. That’s awful and then we move on to what’s for lunch. There is not a deeper meaning to that,” Zappia said.
Zappia says with younger students it is important to instill why this is important for them. If no personal connection is made, the students just go on with their days.
Every other year French students are given the opportunity to host a pen pal from France for two weeks in the fall, and then travel to France in the spring to spend time in the home of their pen pal. Fischer said that the exchange really “brought [the horror of the attacks] home.”
“Having done the exchange last year, I knew that I would have students who would be concerned about their pen pals or who would have been in touch with them and would maybe have things to share. I felt that it was important to give them a forum for talking about that,” Fischer said.
The Paris attacks hit some students very hard.
“I remember right before I left for work I saw it on the news. I thought that can’t be real, I didn’t believe it was actually happening. So right after I got home I messaged my pen pal and I asked her if her family was okay. I put on the news and I watched it for the rest of the night. I cried because I was just really scared for everyone that I knew in France,” East senior Isabel Ortiz said.
“When I got home from I work I started noticing everyone’s posts on Instagram and Twitter and I needed to figure out what was going on. So I started listening to the TV, started talking to people, really getting on social media and learning what was going on. Then I started freaking out because I didn’t go to France personally but I’ve been taking French for so long and I wanted to make sure that all of my friends’ pen pals were fine,” West senior Ife Ekunsanmi said.
“I decided to just kind of scrap my lesson plans and do some plans around this topic.”
– Christie Fischer, French teacher
French students at levels 3 and 4 are scheduled to participate in the French exchange next year. Fischer anticipated questions and concerns from the future travelers.
“We had awesome conversations in all of my classes. Some of the kids came in visibly worried at the beginning of the hour and by the end of the hour felt a lot better after we had discussed and processed this. I thought that was important,” Fischer said.
“I think the main takeaway is that we are brothers and sisters, friends and allies, no matter where we live. This kind of event makes us all French. I think people are understanding that it does not matter that we live half a world away, we are still people and this humanity that everyone is feeling is, I think, the most important lesson. That it does not matter what language you speak, it does not matter where you live, when terrible things happen we need to come together and support one another in any way possible,” Fischer said.
Today French students were encouraged to wear blue, white, and red (the colors of the French flag) in support of “Paix for Paris” (Peace for Paris) Day. Students signed cards for the French high school that participates in the exchange, took pictures to also send, and continued to gather information about the attacks and how France is healing.
“We can’t do anything to change it but let them know that we are holding them up in our thoughts and our hearts and we hope that helps them find strength to get through this terrible time,” Fischer said.
(Top image: Fifth-period French 5 AP students participated in “Paix for Paris Day” today. Photographs courtesy of Lauren Sorensen.)