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Wednesday November 9, 2016 at 1:05pm Age: 2 yrs
Category: High School


How do you teach the truth about a dark period in human history without affecting young minds in a negative way?


Recently, Minisink Valley’s middle and high school teachers participated in a professional development program that prepares educators to teach about the Holocaust, safely and accurately, while stimulating student engagement and critical thinking. Titled “Echoes and Reflections,” this unique education program was a Bar Mitzvah gift presented to ninth grader Josh Levin by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, Israel.


As part of his Bar Mitzvah preparations, Josh chose to participate in Yad Vashem’s Twinning Project, created keep alive the memory of Holocaust victims. The grandson of a Holocaust survivor himself, Josh chose his cousin Sara Kersner as his twin. Sara was killed in Auschwitz at the age of 13. Josh’s choice makes it his lifetime responsibility to keep Sara’s memory alive. In recognition of his commitment, Yad Vashem presented Josh with a voucher for “Echoes and Reflections,” to be passed on to his school district.


The Holocaust education program for schools was developed through the collaboration of three international organizations—the Anti-Defamation League, USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem— to help deliver accurate and authentic Holocaust education.  


Middle school teachers Amy Kowal and Jennifer Pagnanella were among the 60 participants at the Oct. 31 program in the high school auditorium. Each received a complimentary Teachers Resource Guide with ten modular, interdisciplinary lessons on central Holocaust themes, fully supported by rich digital resources.


“We came away with an abundance of fresh insights and resources to incorporate in the Holocaust study unit. I really look forward to using the program’s inquiry-based lessons and trying a new approach to teaching about this a difficult period of history,” Mrs. Pagnanella said.   


A theme of the presentation phrased as “safely in, safely out,” demonstrated different approaches to getting at the central lesson of the Holocaust’s senseless and brutal loss of life, without the need to expose students to graphic and sensitive images. 


“A critical takeaway is that this subject matter should be taught to highlight values and choices,” Mrs. Kowal said. “As teachers, we can make the story relevant to our students by making it a human story—one that focuses on the values of the victims, the choices they made, and the hope that carried them through the most despairing times. Survivor stories can also help shine a light in the darkness.”


For participants, Echoes and Reflections also invited personal epiphanies. “The presenter’s opening statement that ‘Silence is what did the harm,’ really resonated with us,” Mrs. Kowal said. “It made it clear that the bystander who watched a neighbor being dragged away in silence, shared responsibility with the perpetrator executing orders.”