Walking into Steve Bernard’s classroom at Central Valley High School can be a little unsettling when you look at the pictures on the walls.
There are large pictures of Adolf Hitler next to reproductions of old newspapers with headlines that shout about the early days of the Holocaust, next to a photo of a felt Star of David that was required to be sewn onto the clothes of a Jew, intermingling with newspaper accounts of the CV Bears football team.
The juxtaposition may seem odd, but Bernard, who is also an assistant coach on the school’s team, has created a class to teach about the Holocaust. A large banner on the wall explains, “Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat the past.”
The class has been very popular with students – about 400 took the class this year. Bernard said it has grown and evolved over the years from a section in his current world affairs class to a class of its own covering Germany from the end of World War I through World War II.
“Kids tend to be very successful in the class,” he said. There is no textbook, but Bernard has put together a package of materials including films, books and other study aids.
Students work at four different learning stations during the class and focus on different parts of the war.
“It looks like a four-ring circus in here sometimes,” he said.
He started teaching the class after he took a group of students to Eastern Europe in 1980. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan that year and the United States boycotted the Summer Olympics there, so Bernard ended up taking the class to Poland instead. The group toured Auschwitz and Bernard was struck with the history.
He said he felt a “need and obligation” to explain to his students what happened there.
Now, after 34 years of teaching, Bernard is retiring from the Central Valley School District.
He spent three years teaching at Greenacres Junior High at the beginning of his career but also coached football at the high school. Soon CV made a place for him and he taught typing classes using typewriters.
When he was in college, he studied political science with the idea that he would someday be a lawyer. But when he thought about another four and a half years of school, he decided to get a degree in education.
“It has turned out to be the best decision of my life,” he said.
Bernard, 57, said he wants to retire now while he is still young enough to enjoy it. He also wants to leave teaching while he is still having fun, since he doesn’t want to be teaching without passion for his students and subjects. It seemed like a good time to retire, since his wife, Jody, retired recently from the Freeman School District and his youngest daughter, Haley, is graduating from Central Valley this year.
His plans for the future include taking a trip to Europe, since he hasn’t been back since 1980.
“I want to see more of the world,” he said.
He wants to spend more time with his 3-year-old grandson, Logan, his oldest daughter Kelsie’s son.
“He’s a little pistol,” he said.
He also plans to keep coaching football.
“I truly enjoy that,” he said. “It keeps you young.”
He is also continuing his work in Holocaust education. He’s involved in a team educational seminar presentation at the University of Washington this summer and another seminar at Portland State. He was also named a museum teaching fellow for the United States Holocaust Museum.
He’ll miss the students and co-workers, and he is appreciative of his career.
“I truly feel blessed for the opportunities I’ve had.”