Behavior at the Big Sonia Assembly

The Big Sonia movie poster from

The Big Sonia movie poster from

Allison Collier, Reporter


It wasn’t quiet in the PAC. You’d expect as much, when you put more than 500 freshmen and assorted upperclassmen in a room together. But when the lights dimmed and the film started playing, many students continued to chat, joke, sleep, or be on their phones the entire time. They were watching a documentary was about a holocaust survivor.                

91 year old Sonia Warshawski is one of the last holocaust survivors in the Kansas City area. The 93 minute film follows her running her tailoring shop in a nearly abandoned mall, and reliving some of the most tragic parts of her history through animations.

Freshman Libby Stiles expressed her feelings about her fellow classmates. “I think, honestly, that a lot of freshmen are immature, and they don’t know how to handle themselves respectfully.”

There are several reasons why the freshmen acted the way they did. Whether or not they are valid is up for debate.

For one thing, it was a mandatory showing. There was an opt out form in case parents didn’t want their children exposed to sensitive content, but otherwise everyone in the freshmen class was made to attend.

For another, the fact that they were teenagers has a part to play. As teenagers, our advanced decision making skills and ability to consider the consequences of our actions is not fully developed.

However, Stiles didn’t assign all the blame to the students. She added, “We didn’t have that much prep time for the assembly, so if we had gone over expectations before it might have instilled something.”

“I saw some kids very interested and engaged, and at the same time, I saw some kids that were not interested and engaged,” said Marsha Tyson, 9th grade physics teacher.  “In my opinion, some of the reasons for that are our fault of not setting very clear expectations for our freshmen. We made some assumptions going in, and maybe we shouldn’t have.”

James Loudenslager, another freshman, didn’t share Libby or Ms. Tyson’s view on who was to blame. He said, “The behavior at the assembly was reprehensible. There were many people who weren’t listening or paying attention to the very valuable experience… I don’t believe the teachers should be faulted for not preparing the students. It’s a difficult thing to prepare for. The students at this point, in ninth and tenth grade, they should know how to behave at an assembly.”

“Here’s what was really powerful to me,” said Tyson. “I talked to all of my classes after the fact. We talked a little bit about the behavior, but the conversations I had in my classroom after the fact I was really impressed with. The things that they were bringing up, the aha moments that they shared.”

Yet another reason for the behavior at the assembly could have been how the story in the movie was presented. Due to how much time was spent on Sonia’s everyday life, some people could have it found less interesting than a direct movie about the holocaust. However, not all of the movie’s content was lost on the students.

“I think they went in thinking what they were going to see was different than what they saw, but I still think they thought about it. I think the conversations we had had nothing to do with the behaviors, the conversations I had with my students had to do with the topic,” said Ms. Tyson.

“I think the documentary could teach you some really good life lessons, and since we’re freshmen, we don’t have as many life lessons as, say, the tenth graders,” says Libby.

Ms. Tyson continued, “The Tiffany Jackson assemblies were amazing. We had a clear set of expectations for the teachers and the students. We had seating charts. I think the speaker, Tiffany Jackson, was very in tune with teenagers too….there are so many things that go into a successful assembly, and I think the planning, and the communication piece is ideal, but I also believe that being able to frame the topic in a way that’s relevant for teenagers is critical too.”

In all, this behavior from the freshmen was a combination of different reasons and circumstances that led to them acting the way they did. As long as teachers prepare students correctly beforehand, and students prepare themselves correctly beforehand, situations like this can most likely be prevented in the future.