Students and staff at Foxborough Regional Charter School have taken stamp collecting to a whole new level, recently completing a 10-year initiative to collect 11 million postage stamps — one for each person killed in the Holocaust.
Mark Logan, superintendent of the K-12 public school, which draws students from 20 communities, said the project took much longer than anticipated. Initially, he and other faculty thought they could finish the collection within two years. But the drawn-out nature of the project proved to be a blessing, he said.
“When we started getting into it, we realized this is going to have to be a very sustainable program over a long period of time,” Logan said. “It meant we could really integrate this across our curriculum across all of the grades, and it would take on greater meaning.”
Students have completed 18 stamp collages that depict images associated with the Holocaust, from book burnings to doves that represent peace to portraits of survivors. Three additional pieces are in progress.
Kindergartners used the stamps to practice counting by ones, tens, and hundreds, and sorting by color.
In each grade, messages learned from the Holocaust, such as kindness and empathy, were incorporated into the school’s social, emotional, and anti-bullying programming, Logan said.
“Just because we might look different — we are much more alike than we are different,” he said. “We should be valuing each other, and that started right in our classrooms.”
The project was founded in 2008 by Charlotte Sheer, a fifth-grade teacher who has since retired. The choice to collect stamps was a symbolic one: Logan said Sheer likened the fact that stamps are thrown out after their envelopes are opened to the widespread devaluing of life by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The initiative started modestly but picked up steam rapidly. In September 2012, four years into the project, the school had collected nearly 1.4 million stamps. By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, however, that number had doubled to nearly 3 million.
Logan attributed the acceleration in the second half of the project to contributions by Jewish organizations, stamp collectors, and other groups and individuals around the world.
The donations usually arrived in bundles of dozens or hundreds, Logan said. But the school once received a contribution of 1 million stamps. And sometimes, family members would send in a single stamp to commemorate the life of a loved one who had died.
Students and staff would set about cutting the stamps out from envelopes, counting them, sorting some of them by color, and stuffing them into plastic bags that then went into large bins.
“Usually, we get a group of us together and we talk,” said Sarah DeFanti, a senior who has been processing the stamp donations since she was in fifth grade. “Sometimes we put some music on, but other than that it’s mostly just sorting and counting.”
DeFanti recently completed the project’s 18th artwork: pencil-drawn portraits of Holocaust survivors Sam Weinreb and his wife, Goldie, surrounded by a collage of stamps. Last year, Weinreb spoke at the school about his harrowing experiences in prison and work camps during the Holocaust and how he was able to escape from a death march.
“I decided to go with a gradient of really vivid and bright colors,” DeFanti said of the stamps in the background of her piece. “I tried to get as much life into the background as possible.”
The 18 collages went on display at the school on April 22. Among those who attended the event was Lois Lowry, the Cambridge-based author of “Number the Stars,” a story about Danes who smuggled thousands of Jews to safety in Sweden.
Logan estimates 20,000 stamps were used in the collages. He is hoping a museum, university, or other organization might take an interest in the project and host the remaining stamps.
The collection effort has touched many people around the world. Inspired by the Foxborough school, a group in Canada has begun an 11 million stamp collection of its own.
“It’s been really, really interesting to see it grow from a class full of fifth-graders counting stamps to people in other states and countries getting involved,” DeFanti said.
Julia Preszler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.