CHAMPAIGN — Eighth-grade English students at Edison Middle School studying prejudice and injustice have turned their studies into sculptures, and they're inviting the public to come see their work.
A viewing of Rachel Riley's students' sculptures will be open to the public from 8:15 a.m until noon Tuesday (May 15) at Edison Middle School, 306 W. Green St., C. Visitors will vote on their favorite sculptures, which makes the event a contest.
Riley said her students have been studying media and their underlying messages and then transitioned into learning about the Holocaust. They read "The Devil's Arithmetic," about a modern person who goes back to the time of the Holocaust, and talked about how people went along with the genocide, Riley said.
They talked about not being bystanders, but stepping in when something unjust was happening.
To cap off the unit, Riley had her students — about 75 eighth-graders — create sculptures to memorialize or commemorate victims of prejudice and hate.
Some students made their sculptures to look at a specific thing — Avion Mapson was working Monday on his sculpture of a cattle car that would have transported Jews to concentration camps during the Holocaust. He was making it with hot glue and Popsicle sticks.
"I felt like showing people what the Jews went through, and what the cattle cars were like," Mapson said, adding that many people died of starvation and dehydration while on the cars before even arriving at concentration camps.
Cole Valentine, Daniel Lopez and Kobe Brown were working on a sculpture that featured a burning cross and would show a lynching when they finished.
Valentine said their research showed them just how many people have been lynched, and Lopez said he was surprised to learn about the tactics involved.
Valentine said they focused on lynchings to do something a little different from what their classmates were creating, and to "just remember it, because it happened."
But other students combined several events through history to depict in their sculptures. For example, some were made to commemorate victims of the Holocaust, Jim Crow laws and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Others were working on sculptures about the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida earlier this year.
Some sculptures are dark and sad, featuring fences and dirt and skeletons to depict concentration camps. Others, though, show hope for those who have been victims.
"They've put a lot into it," Riley said. "The students are really trying to think about being vocal and keep the idea of equality alive. Our society now is not ignorant about these things any more. We know that people deserve equal treatments."