Westborough Friends of Facing History and Ourselves Foundation learn about human behavior

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(L to r) Westborough High School (WHS) Facing History And Ourselves (FHAO) student Pat Bryant, WHS teacher of FHAO Greg Gallagher, former WHS FHAO student Mariane Leite, FHAO's Doc Miller, and Ernest Rugwizangonga, speaker and Rwandan genocide survivor.

By Patrick Bryant and Gail McBride

WESTBOROUGH – The Westborough Friends of Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO) Foundation held its first community event in the Mill Pond School auditorium Oct. 28. The foundation supports the FHAO curriculum currently taught to seniors at Westborough High School (WHS).

The foundation's inaugural event featured two speakers from the FHAO National Organization, Program Associate Jeremy Nesoff, and Senior Program Associate for Staff Development Doc Miller. The third speaker, Ernest Rugwizangonga, is a survivor of the mass murder of the Tutsi tribe in Rwanda. Also participating were Patrick Bryant, a WHS senior, and Mariane Leite, a 2010 graduate of WHS.

Nesoff introduced the audience to the FHAO curriculum. The course uses historical case studies to show students how human behavior plays a critical role in shaping history and society. Students learn that their choices do matter and that they can create positive change. Miller spoke about his years teaching the FHAO course and Rugwizangonga spoke about the traumatic experiences of the genocide in Rwanda. Next, the students discussed how the course impacted their lives. Finally, there was a panel discussion that included the speakers and students, followed by questions and answers.

Bryant and Leite explained what they had gotten from taking the class.

“When Mr. Gallagher had first asked me to speak at the event as a current student of the Facing History in Ourselves course,” Bryant said, “I had originally thought that I was going to talk about just the material in the class. So the speech I prepared dealt with what we as a class would learn, and why it was important. I thought of the class discussions and the films we watched and what they meant. When I arrived at the event, I was introduced to some of the other speakers that would be on the panel. I met Ernest Rugwizangonga, who experienced the mass murders of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. Doc Miller was another speaker on the panel, and he has been teaching the course now for longer than I'se actually been alive. Meeting both of these men made me realize that I shouldn's be talking about the logistics of what we learned, but how the class has had an impact on me as an individual. As the event started, I listened to Doc talk about how he has taught the class to kids from all backgrounds and he gave some examples of the work his kids produced. These students were exposed to so many new things, just as I have been in the course. Ernest spoke next of his experience in Rwanda as a teenager and the oppression that he faced growing up. The message he gave was that he wanted the kids to know what happened so it won's be forgotten and so we can learn from it. At this point I realized talking about just the logistics and material of the class would be pointless. So I decided to share how the class has aff ected me, and the way that I think.

Ever since the beginning of the course I'se noticed that it's really opened my eyes. The films we'se watched and activities that we'se done have made me reevaluate the way I think and ask myself if the things I consider everyday and normal are okay. So I talked about the things I'se learned and how I'se really grown through the course. The event just went great, especially talking with Ernest and Doc after the event. They really put 110 percent in what they do and they'se so passionate in the process. It's people like Doc, Ernest, and Mr. Gallagher that really inspire me to become a teacher.”

“I went to the event because it is very important for everyone to understand the value of this class in our community,” Leite said. “A lot of people in Westborough value the material culture imposed on them and don's see the world around them and everything that is going on besides what is aff ecting them. With this class I was able to take myself out of my life of comfort and conformity, and put myself in the place of those who were discriminated against and suffered. It is a class that opens your eyes to the world, which makes you realize that you have the right to have diff erent beliefs from other people, but that you have to respect their beliefs too. It makes you realize that you should do things because it is the right thing to do, not because of someone's expectations of you. Events like these with guest speakers are very important. I think it brings together all the diff erent aspects of the class.”

School Superintendent Marianne O”Connor was in the large audience, along with community members and students. Thanks to donations, the foundation raised funds that will be used toward granting its second scholarship to a graduating senior this spring.