How Palm Beach County, Florida Adopted Facing History Curriculum | Facing History & Ourselves
Kim Coombs headshot cropped

How Palm Beach County, Florida Adopted Facing History Curriculum

Kim Coombs details the process of bringing Facing History into her school district and the value add for teachers.

Kim Coombs is a K-12 Holocaust studies program planner in the school district that serves Palm Beach County, Florida, the tenth largest school district in the nation. She started her career in Palm Beach County schools 28 years ago. Since then she has worked as a classroom teacher in the district's regional office and as a single school culture coordinator. She has experience training and providing support to teachers and writing lessons for the Department of Teaching and Learning.

In Palm Beach County, Florida we are longtime fans of Facing History & Ourselves. Our work with Facing History goes back about 20 years. But Florida’s political climate has presented additional challenges for teachers of late.

Recently in my state there have been over 30 pieces of legislation that have been passed that are impacting our teachers in our classrooms. The state of Florida has also just adopted new social studies standards, including Holocaust standards.

I am responsible for the district’s Holocaust elective, and so when I heard that we had the opportunity to adopt curriculum, I said, "We've got to go with Facing History." Our teachers were using it anyway, but they were piecemealing it. They were taking components like “A Single Story,” and “The Bear That Wasn't,” and just putting them in where they wanted to and where they fit. But we have so many different types of teachers—veteran educators, new teachers—we needed the structure of fully adopting Facing History. So I reached out to Jeremy Nesoff, Facing History’s Director of District Partnerships, and my Facing History hero. He's been right by my side the whole time.

My district started the adoption process to bring Facing History to 35 schools in 2022. We formed the adoption committee, we went through all of the right channels, and we had teachers come in and review different curriculums. We had to read every single lesson and make sure nothing was going to cross any of the new legislation.

We had to ask ourselves: What do we need to change? Are those changes going to impact the integrity of the Holocaust and Human Behavior unit? Eventually, we were able to get what we needed and we've been using the Facing History Holocaust unit since August 2023. And everybody's loving it. I knew we needed the content of Facing History. We needed that accuracy, that consistency. But for me, it was the pedagogy. Before I had teachers, many of whom had been teaching this content for years, saying to me, "Gosh, my kids are so uninterested in this topic and they're so disengaged." We needed that pedagogy and student-centered learning that Facing History offers.

And for new teachers this structure is so valuable—they’re scared. Some of them are deeply worried. They're teaching sensitive content, and they don't want to say the wrong thing. They don't want the backlash. So by providing these lessons that are grounded in accurate history and grounded in primary sources, they have that. Facing History provides a level of security for them—a safety net. 

The school district of Palm Beach County has a mission: to educate, affirm, and inspire. Facing History fits right into achieving those district goals and ensuring that our students are college, career, and community ready. Facing History does that not only by educating our students about history, but also affirming their identity. This curriculum inspires our young people to become active, informed, and empathetic members of our society. It’s a perfect fit for our district's goals.

Another thing teachers really benefit from is training and professional development. That was a huge reason why I wanted to more fully bring in Facing History. I never wanted educators to feel like we were just buying a curriculum and throwing textbooks and resources their way. The district-wide engagement we’ve had with Facing History has included on-the-ground training, meeting with teachers, and creating a network of educators who now have the opportunity to share and to get real-time professional development that directly translates to their classroom needs.