Rice News, Article about EZ Comics Initiative at KIPP Academy Middle School
BY CASEY MICHEL
Special to the Rice News
In the past, Rice undergraduate Ruchir Shah has hired professional artists and writers to produce education-based comic books for his nonprofit company, EZ Comics. But in creating his most recent book, he decided to utilize talent from the same audience he hopes to attract: middle school and high school students.
Ruchir Shah, a junior at McMurtry College, worked this fall with seventh- and eighth-graders at KIPP Academy, a nationally recognized charter school in southwest Houston, to create a comic book based on the students’ studies of the Holocaust.
Shah, a junior at McMurtry College, worked this fall with seventh- and eighth-graders at KIPP Academy, a nationally recognized charter school in southwest Houston, to create a comic book based on the students’ studies of the Holocaust. The final product, completed earlier this month, spans 12 pages and serves as a comprehensive retelling of the Holocaust.
EZ Comics’ previous books have focused on national leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and James A. Baker III, honorary chair of Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, to educate students about historical figures and events. But those comics were written and illustrated by professionals in the field.
Shah said that although he helped on the outline of the story for the Holocaust comic, both the writing and artwork were overseen by the students at KIPP.
“They had to synthesize all the research, and then write and make it work,” Shah said. “The fact is that it teaches them a lot of skills. They’re learning how to research, edit, write, how to work in a team — and they have a finished product in the end.”
The project took about two months to complete and will be available at the Holocaust Museum Houston, which oversaw printing costs. More than 3,000 copies will also be handed out as part of Kaddish, an oratorio incorporating the tales of more than a dozen Holocaust survivors, which the Houston Symphony is set to perform Nov. 23.
“I’m really very, very excited about the level of engagement the students had with the content, the research and the ideas behind this,” said Mary Lee Webeck, director of education at the museum. “I was very impressed with the final piece.”
But the project will serve as something more than simply a creative educational process. While Shah had worked closely with the business’s previous projects, he said he sees the project as a potential new direction for the future structure of the business: Instead of him having to hire professional talent, the creation of the comics can come directly from the classroom. “The Holocaust comic book is the test case,” Shah said. “Now, anyone in the world can create their own comic books and publish them online and build these cross-cultural connections.”
Elliott Witney, head of the KIPP Academy, agreed, noting that the comic book will not only add to the school’s comprehensive study on the Holocaust, but that the book’s impact could potentially reach far beyond just the students at KIPP.
“I had two reactions, between my head and my heart,” Witney said. “The head was thinking that this book should be shared with a significantly broader audience than even Houston kids. It’s the type of collaboration that is important, especially with the recent cases of bullying in the U.S.
“And the heart side of me was pretty blown away emotionally, because I thought it captured the most important parts of studies. I’ve never seen this type of collaborative effort before.”
Shah said he sees the success of this project enabling him to further expand the business’s website, ezcomics.com. His books, which are available on Amazon.com, have already been featured in numerous U.S. embassies throughout the world — and now, they may be featured in schools around the globe too.
As Rice continues to engage with the city of Houston and contribute to improving education as part of the Vision for the Second Century, Shah is making a contribution of his own.
“It’s valuable for a kid to create, but it’s even more valuable when kids teach kids,” he said. “And kids learning from kids — there’s nothing better than that.”
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