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KC English teacher uses book about Holocaust to help students open up about heartache

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- By now, you've likely seen the news story involving a Denver-based teacher using an assignment called "I Wish My Teacher Knew..."

Colorado elementary school teacher Kyle Schwartz is gaining positive fame on social media for encouraging students to share personal facts about themselves that, in turn, educators can use to connect better with them.

Here in Kansas City, one area teacher has a twist of her own to this assignment -- using a reading assignment involving the Holocaust to get kids to open up. At Center High School, lessons from the book "Night" by Elie Wiesel are being used by an innovative English instructor. They've led to students sharing tales of heartache from their own lives.

To study in Khara Martin's tenth grade English class is to learn in unique ways.

Wiesel's 1960 book is an autobiographical account of his teenage years in a Nazi concentration camp, where he watched family members marched to their deaths. The book includes a short poem called "Never Shall I Forget..."

Martin assigned students to write their own versions of that poem, describing a night that changed each of their lives.

"Some had very good moments. Others focused on very traumatic moments," Martin explained.

"Several talked about witnessing family members who had been shot. Others talked about watching people graduate from high school. More talked about violence."

Martin said once students opened up, they began to trust her, and in some cases, use her as a listening ear. This, in turn, led to better communication concerning lesson plans and overall educational success.

"The more I talked to her, the more I realized she was going through many of the same things I was going through when she was a child," Mashayla Taylor, Center High student, said. "She was kind of like me. She had the same problems."

"I actually do need a friend to talk to, and I talked to miss martin about it. I think she understands me," Jashontai Coleman, Center High student said.

Martin says another benefit of this exercise won't been seen until years into the future. She says she understands the obstacles many students overcome just to attend school every day. She says she can't wait to see them succeed and put those pitfalls in the past.

Martin says she's been teaching for seven years, and she uses the "Night" assignment with students every March.