At Mt. Hebron, the ninth grade English curriculum requires students to read Night, the memoir of holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. During this unit, students learn about the six million individuals who lost their lives during this tragic period of human history.
In 2009, English teacher Ms. Cyndie Fagan and Special Education teacher Ms. Janna Freishtat decided to do something to memorialize the lives lost. The two teachers set a goal to collect six million stamps and build a mural that would stand as a tribute to the victims of intolerance and genocide during World War II.
Ms. Fagan and Ms. Freishtat were inspired by the “Paper Clips Project,” a mission one Tennessee high school achieved by collecting 15 million paper clips to create a monument for holocaust victims, and decided to dub their own project “Stamp Out Intolerance.” They chose to collect stamps in lieu of paper clips because each stamp is unique and has its own story, just like each Holocaust victim.
Now affectionately known as The Cyndie Fagan Stamp Project, the endeavor has become even more poignant this year in light of Ms. Fagan’s recent passing. In an effort to honor her wishes for the completion of the project, the staff and student body have rallied behind it with renewed conviction.
“It’s evident that this project was near and dear to Ms. Fagan’s heart, and it’s important to honor her,” Ms. Freishtat said. “It will be important to the students who knew her.”
Principal Scott Ruehl agrees and continues to voice his support for the project’s premise.
“I like the idea of stamping out intolerance because Mt. Hebron is such a diverse school,” he said.
Many students get involved by reading Night or by hearing about the project from siblings or friends who have participated. Junior Tara Bellido de Luna is among those became a dedicated stamp cutter upon entering high school.
“My brother Jordan was involved when he was in high school, so that’s how I got into it,” she said. “But after reading Night, I got to thinking about just how many six million is. It was very eye-opening.”
One does not have to be a freshman to join the cause. Senior Sarah Seen, who just started participating this year, said, “I got involved through the National Honor Society. But I think it’s a wonderful cause, and with the immense amount of participation, we’re getting closer to the goal.”
English teacher Ms. Amy Comberiate has taken over the project since Ms. Fagan’s passing. One of her many major responsibilities is to distribute stamps to National Honor Society members, for it is a popular way for students to earn service hours.
Mt. Hebron is fortunate to have received very generous stamp donations to support the project over the years. They come from places such as the school’s own mail boxes, small businesses and the Circuit Courthouse for Howard County. The project has even received stamps from holocaust survivors, as well as from celebrities like Ryan Sheckler, Michael Phelps and Jim Carrey.
As the project inches closer to its goal, plans are being made with the National Art Honor Society to design the mural.
“We’re not sure when it will be finished, but we plan to put [the mural] in the blank hallway space in the upstairs English wing,” said Ms. Comberiate.
Although no concrete plans have been made for the mural, Mr. Ruehl hopes “to see something similar to a display in a museum, with an explanation of the project next to the mural,” he said.
While The Cyndie Fagan Stamp Project commemorates Holocaust victims, the project is still relevant today in light of recent events like the displays of racial intolerance in Ferguson, Missouri.
With the holiday season fast approaching, it is a great time to get involved. The month of December brings a peak in mail flow, and saving Christmas card envelopes is an easy way to collect stamps. Every stamp counts, just as every life counts.