TOWNSEND -- Genocide is an ugly word defined after the atrocities the Nazis committed during the Holocaust became general knowledge.
Although the freshman curriculum at North Middlesex Regional High School ends with World War II, the school's world studies teachers wanted their students to learn about the organized horrors that people have faced since then.
The Genocide Museum was born.
Working in small teams, the students used research skills and creativity to build exhibits portraying the plights of the victims, transforming the school's gymnasium on June 13 into a museum paying tribute to victims of genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Cambodia and Rwanda.
World studies teacher Hannah Marino said the project gave students the opportunity to reflect on the horrors of genocide, and think about the ways that raising awareness can prevent such atrocities.
"The quieter we are, the easier it is for people to repeat these actions, even today. It's more of a cycle than we realize," Marino said.
World studies teacher Nancy Paterno said the ultimate goal of the project was simple.
"It made them think, and that's what we're here for," Paterno said.
Teachers Tony Gubelman, Alexandra Horelick, Heather Lessard, Katie Loth, Kaitlin Quinn-Stearns and Jeremy Savarese also organized the projects.
At the museum, students took in a variety of depictions of genocide.
A mannequin hung from a tripod to represent the 20 Hunchakian gallows used in Armenia when activists were hung in 1915. Instead of giving the victim a face, the students used a mirror to show that it could happen to anyone at any time, said Kevin Lundstrom, a student from Pepperell who worked on the project.
Another group recreated the Killing Tree, a memorial to the children killed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. The winner in a children's game was often rewarded with a rubber band to be worn around the wrist. The slayers beat infants and children against a tree to kill them. Now, bracelets are hung from that tree in remembrance. Educated people and their children were the ones most often targeted, said student Melissa Barrile of Pepperell.
Another exhibit about the Cambodian genocide provided a more artistic interpretation of the horrors. Painted skulls and sheet music based on a traditional song sat beside original poetry.
Each exhibit included an annotated bibliography with at least 15 sources the team consulted in preparing the exhibit and answers to essential questions, Marino said.
Students used skills-based Common Core requirements like research, argument and using correct citations in the project. These skills allowed students to use creativity to produce the end products that show empathy and educate others.
"It makes a difference," Marino said.
This is the second year that freshmen have put together a genocide museum, said Headmaster Christopher Chew.
"The kids have done an incredible job. They're learning about things that are tough," he said.
For both the students who participated in the project and those from other grades who viewed their work, the importance of learning about genocide became clear.
"In America, we're so focused on our own borders, we need to know that other things like this do happen around the world," said sophomore Michael Schroth, who participated in the project last year.
Junior Emma Culotta said she wished the project had been assigned when she was a freshman.
"It was very sobering to see all of this because nobody knows. I wish I could have done something like this," Culotta said.
Freshman Lily Ellars said the project was the most meaningful one she has done so far in high school.
"We always say we're never going to let it happen again, but it keeps happening. It makes you wonder when it'll happen next and what we'll do to stop it," Ellars said.