By Vince Pagano, Principal - Crestwood Preparatory College
Scott Masters is a teacher with an ability to bring history to life. The Crestwood Oral History Project has become a major part of school culture at Crestwood Preparatory College. I have been in education for forty years, but I can’t remember an initiative that has been more transformational – enriching and informing the experience of students and building bridges to understanding.
Scott is a true master in his ability to convey traditional content and values in innovative forms. Crestwood’s Oral History webpage reflects our students’ family and oral history projects. Students digitize primary materials and produce and edit digitally recorded interviews.
Born out of Scott’s amazing relationship with his WWII vet grandfather’s stories, he wanted his students to have a similar relationship to their past and that of Canada’s through this project.
As part of this project, students research their own family history – a process that creates real bonds between students and their subjects, which are most often, their own grandparents. Many students learn things they never knew about their families, and many parents have expressed their support and gratitude for the project. The Oral History Project is an exemplar of community outreach and inter-generational communication.
One Holocaust survivor who has spoken at the school many times is Max Eisen. Max brings authentic documents so that students can witness and discuss the proof of the Holocaust. These include designs and correspondence related to the construction of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and they also include the documentation that Max has obtained about his own family’s fate. Students also witness Max’s number tattoo on his arm.
It is a powerful learning scenario.
The genesis of this, "community in the classroom," approach has occurred over the last decade. Scott invited veterans and survivors into the classroom to present their stories would teach the outline of the period to his students, and speakers would enhance this outline by discussing their personal experience of World War II.
Many of these speakers were elderly, and would not be able to do classroom visits much longer. In response, Scott recorded their histories and amassed a considerable video archive. Although this is a generation that will not be heard directly in the classroom much longer, Scott has made it possible for their stories to endure.
History may emphasize the past, but the study of history is altered by technology. That applies to the Oral History Project and Crestwood’s involvement in the Azrieli Twitter Book Club. Scott has also organized student participation in the Toronto-wide Holocaust Education Week and has mounted an annual Human Rights and Tolerance Symposium which is attended by many other schools in the Greater Toronto Area.
The Oral History Project now boasts well over 300 interviews and includes other members of our community who survived the horrors such as Rwanda, the Iranian revolution, Japanese internment camps, and many other many other racially motivated crimes against humanity.
Scott has received awards on many occasions, most notably the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 2011 and the 2012 Governor-General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching History. Scott has been honoured by the Dominion Institute with their inaugural Memory Project Achievement Award. Two former students who went onto Queens’ University nominated him for the Baillie Award for Excellence in Teaching, which he won in June 2010. Most recently Scott was awarded The Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education.
The collective experience and compelling histories shared by people engaged in projects with Scott and his students is an undeniable catalyst for student excellence that creates a positive energy extending well beyond the high school experience.