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St. Louis Jewish teenagers fighting antisemitism 'Student to Student'

More than 100 teenage ambassadors volunteer every year to be part of the JCRC program.

IMPERIAL, Mo. — On this day, at Seckman High School in Imperial, Missouri, the best teachers might just be students.

Which is why Alan Kirby is just an observer today in his German language classroom.

"I want to expose my students to the whole world, especially to things that they might not know about," said Kirby, a veteran teacher.

This lesson plan is being taught by four Jewish students to pupils unfamiliar with Judaism. The goal is to quell stereotypes and prejudice.

"When we connect and we see each other and when the students actually talk to each other, it breaks down those barriers," Lauren Abraham said.

Abraham is the director of the Student to Student program from the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis.

"You'll hear in the presentation about how we are such a minority. Yet religious-based hate crimes, so many of them, are focused toward us," Abraham said.

More than 100 teenage ambassadors volunteer every year to be part of JCRC's program, and after hours of training, they will visit more than 120 classrooms all over the bi-state area. Rylie Fine, 17, said she felt a responsibility to sign up.

"Every minority is feeling this hatred and just kind of this sense of doom in the world and nobody's fighting against it," Fine said. "So, I think that by coming into these classrooms, it is our way of hoping to change that."

Each presentation is deliberately low-tech with the student presenters bringing their own props. They touch on everything from holidays to the Hebrew language.

Sam Deutsch,18, told the personal story of his great uncle who survived the Auschwitz death camp and became an educator.

"His philosophy was that if he spent the rest of his life wanting revenge and all that kind of stuff that nothing would happen and antisemitism would go on in the world," Deutsch said.

Stories like that strike a poignant chord for Kirby.

"My grandmother and her siblings were all part of the Hitler youth. And my great uncle ended up in the SS," said Kirby.

Which is why he invites the program into his classroom every year.

"My Uncle Fritz and I even spoke about this program that I'm doing here," Kirby said. "And how all of this helps the world be a better place."

It's hard to measure the difference one hour can make, but for some, it seemed to have a lasting impact.

"It kind of makes me wonder when did it stop being about the fact that we're all people regardless of cultural differences or traditions or ethnicity," said Seckman student Carter Phillips.

The Student to Student program — shining a light to eclipse the shadows of prejudice and building bridges of understanding, one lesson at a time.

"We do have our differences," Abraham said. "But we can all connect together."

To learn more about Student to Student and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, click here.

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