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At Great American Teach-in, Pinellas students learn about life and art, history and health

Boarding school: Garrison Jones Elementary School first-grader Patrick Jenkins, 6, breaks a board Thursday held by tae kwon do instructor Gloria Tran from Victory Martial Arts in Palm Harbor. Tran led different groups of students throughout the day in calisthenics, defense moves and breaking boards.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Boarding school: Garrison Jones Elementary School first-grader Patrick Jenkins, 6, breaks a board Thursday held by tae kwon do instructor Gloria Tran from Victory Martial Arts in Palm Harbor. Tran led different groups of students throughout the day in calisthenics, defense moves and breaking boards.

Times Staff Writer

At the Great American Teach-In on Thursday, students learned about making flan, becoming a certified public accountant and surviving cancer. And all that came from just one speaker.

David Hastings, a CPA who with his wife owns Gulfport's Habana Cafe, showed students at Boca Ciega High School how to caramelize sugar for flan, and explained how he works out food costs at the restaurant.

Then he turned to his personal story about surviving oral cancer. Doctors traced his condition to the human papillomavirus, said Hastings, who urged the youths to fight the disease by getting vaccinated against HPV. The virus, long known to cause cervical cancer, is increasingly connected with other cancers as well.

"I thought that it was very moving," senior Nora Parketny said of Hastings' cancer survival story.

Across Pinellas County on Thursday, guest speakers from all walks of life did their best to open students' eyes to jobs and hobbies they might want to pursue — and much more.

At Oldsmar Elementary School, every class had at least four speakers, including musicians, military personnel, fitness instructors, a clown and a herpetologist who brought in some reptiles. Largo Middle School featured police, Coast Guard personnel, a Web designer, youth pastors and guide dog trainers, plus a popular demonstration of kite-boarding and wake-boarding.

Boca Ciega had a particularly diverse showing, with speakers that included students from Stetson University College of Law, physicians, an architect, a "sleep technologist," and speakers on topics such as domestic violence, bicycling, wellness, writing and martial arts.

Outside in a courtyard, glass artists David Walker and Joshua Poll used 4,000-degree heat from a propane-and-oxygen torch to show students how they make their artwork for Zen Glass Studios in St. Petersburg.

The artists were impressed by the depth of students' questions about materials, pricing and other issues. Which is important because, "You have to be an artist, but you have to be a business person too," Walker said.

While most speakers shared stories of their careers or avocations, Mary Wygodski came to share history. She's 87, a Holocaust survivor. She said she believes it's her duty to relate what she lived through — and that her family members did not survive.

She was 15 and living in Poland when German Nazis forced the family to live in a ghetto. She was later sent to the Stutthof death camp, where everyone was given a bar of soap and told to line up for a shower.

"I wanted to take a shower and was so happy," she said. But she was pulled out of the line, and later sent to a different camp. It was only later that she learned the shower was a gas chamber, and no one survived it.

"I can't understand how I remained alive," she said.

The next camp she went to was a satellite of the infamous Buchenwald. Eventually, she was liberated by American forces.

Wygodski was separated from other family members. Decades after World War II ended, she learned her father and brother had been killed in a concentration camp, but never discovered the fate of other family members.

Serena Wetter, a 10th-grader, has a special interest in Holocaust history and got permission to change her schedule to hear Wygodski. She left the session both informed and moved.

"I was about to tear up," Serena said.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at ckrueger@tampabay.com.

At Great American Teach-in, Pinellas students learn about life and art, history and health 11/15/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 16, 2012 4:52pm]
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