The 2004 documentary Paper Clips tells the story of the small town of Whitwell, Tenn., where a certain group of middle-school students undertook a remarkable project: filling a railway car with 11 million paper clips — one for each victim of the Holocaust.
Now, the Jess Kedson Foundation and the National Council of Jewish Women have been spreading the message of this powerful film by distributing copies of it to the school districts of Bucks, Montgomery and Delaware Counties.
The Foundation and the NCJW purchased enough DVDs to reach every middle school and high school in those three counties, along with other educational materials that accompany the film, said Phyllis Kedson, who is also a longtime member of the NCJW. "When we gave it over, they were very receptive."
"It was amazing what the children did" in the film, she added. "It's a lovely story of America."
Whitwell had "no real frame of reference" for diversity, according to Judith Ginsberg, president of NCJW. Folks there didn't know what a Jewish — or any other minority — community was like, yet they reached out to complete a monumental effort in understanding.
"There's a larger community out there that needs to be continually reminded" of what happened during the Holocaust, noted Ginsberg, and the people with firsthand knowledge — the actual survivors — are getting older and passing away with each year.
"It's something I believe people should know about," insisted Jack McGovern of the Bucks County Intermediate Unit, one of the recipients of the film. And the message isn't just about teaching diversity to students; there's also a lot for teachers to learn as well about their craft. "There's some wonderful examples of good teaching" depicted in the documentary, he said.
McGovern received the materials for the film at the end of the last school year, and decided to save the project for the fall, rather than try to shoehorn it into the curriculum at the last minute.
This will give him a better opportunity to discuss the film at social-studies meetings with the department heads of the schools. "It's not only the significance of the message," he said. "It's that it's done so well."
Wading through all the materials a school receives to determine what would be beneficial to the students can often be a daunting task, added McGovern — one that he doesn't "treat casually."
"I try to be protective of what I bring to our curriculum councils," he said, and he remarked that he also tries to be a filter for what is worth discussing.
Indeed, Paper Clips was something he felt should be part of the students' learning. "It is a very well-done film," he said, and so is the book that goes along with it. "It's good stuff about a very significant issue."
In Delaware County, the consensus was also to hold off on the film until the fall. "Because it was the very end of the school year," said administrator Ann Mosakowski, "it really wasn't going to happen then."
The school districts will receive copies of the film and materials in the fall, and the county plans to tie the effort into its Distance Communication Initiatives, which use high-speed networking to get the schools connected with video-conferencing.
The materials will act "as a springboard to get teachers and schools to talk to each other," added Mosakowski.
Ginsberg said that the NCJW and Jess Kedson Foundation have a budget commitment next year that will allow them to purchase even more copies of the film, possibly to go to Philadelphia and Chester counties.
The goal is to reach out to children, and show them they can make a difference in the world, stated Kedson. "If they're directed correctly, they can achieve anything," as this film demonstrates so well.