Union Middle School teacher Kerri Flynn is bringing a wealth of Holocaust information to teachers in her district and districts across the community.
Flynn was the recipient of a Teacher Fellowship awarded by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Middle and high school instructors and community college faculty spent five days in Washington D.C with access to the U.S. Holocaust Museum and its extensive resource library. They were also visited by scholars from Berlin.
Flynn said training lasted from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m each day.
“It was intense,” she said, “a good intense, but it was intense.”
Educators considered what teaching tactics are most effective, ways to integrate higher order thinking skills into lessons and discussed strategies to make students connect with the subject rather than trivialize it.
“They want us to be better teachers. Anybody can teach (the Holocaust), but there’s a better way to teach it,” said Flynn.
Creating a Bridge
Although it’s been months since her trip, Flynn said she is still emerging from the cocoon where peers shared her views on the importance of the Holocaust to an environment where colleagues may believe her interests are obsessive.
She added there’s a risk of being designated a zealot but avoiding that label involves connecting with educators new to Holocaust subject matter and reconnecting with educators who are.
“It is a passion so you have to make this bridge,” Flynn said.
Already she has made herself available to Union faculty — last month she previewed the program she intends to bring to middle school and high school students for school board members and school principals.
Additionally, the fellowship requires Flynn to present a reflection on her experience in D.C. to area schools and share her knowledge and training with other instructors.
“Sometimes I forget that I have tons more training than everybody else,” she noted.
The teaching methods acquired through the national fellowship can be particularly helpful to teachers who have never done Holocaust lessons before but, even then, Flynn acknowledges there are limitations.
Existing comprehensive curriculum is too vast for a single instructor and there are only so many days in a school year.
“There’s going to be a lot we don’t do because we don’t have time.”
Still, Flynn said one of the advantages of the program is teachers know what knowledge students gain from year to year so they don’t have to go back to the beginning.
“It makes everybody’s job a little bit easier and we avoid some of the Holocaust fatigue,” Flynn said.
She’s planned out lessons for seventh, eighth and ninth grade English students. When selecting the reading material she considered students’ maturity levels and bore in mind students’ realize the atrocity of Hitler’s final solution better when learning about individuals in their same age group affected by the Holocaust.
As a preview to the novel “Friedrich” by Hans Peter Richter, seventh-graders will study the social and cultural conditions that allowed the Nazis to become the ruling party of Germany. The book about two boys, one of whom is Jewish, growing up in Germany during the 1930s and, 40s is historical fiction.
Eighth-grade topics will include a closer view of life for Jews in hiding or captivity. Flynn determined books for their Holocaust unit would likely be “Surviving the Angel of Death” by Eva Mozes Kor and “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
Kor’s memoir about living through torture and experimentation at the hands of Dr. Joseph Mengele was adapted for a young adult audience and Flynn prefers the real diary over the lightly embellished play.
“I guess I’m a snob,” she said.
Flynn said the ninth-grade experience will be more immersive since they will address death marches and killing centers. Students will read “Night,” the devastating account of how Elie Weisel, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, lost his family and innocence as a teenager in Auschwitz.
“Night is crucial to me,” said Flynn. It was the first Holocaust novel she taught when she began teaching in Hermann.
Later lessons in high school will emphasize that problems for Jews did not end with the war and put modern events in historical perspective.
Flynn explained that students often think the Holocuast ended, Jews went home and lived happily ever after and nothing like it ever happened again.
“That’s a nice thought, but that’s not what happened,” she remarked, “The more people that start teaching the Holocaust, the more people start talking about genocide, the more awareness we create.”
Next summer Flynn is offering students and family members the ultimate opportunity to further their Holocaust education — a visit to Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
The 10-day excursion will begin with a walking tour of Berlin, with stops at historical sites including the Reichstag, the remains of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and the Jewish Museum.
A stopover in Warsaw, Poland, will feature visits to the ghettos and the Jewish Institute. The trip to Krakow, Poland, will take them to Auschwitz-Birkenau — the largest and most well-known among concentration and death camps where more than 1 million Jews were murdered.
Finally, travelers will depart for the capital city of the Czech Republic, Prague. The European city features elegant cathedrals and synagogues in and around the Jewish quarter.
“I definitely think that is a great conclusion to our study,” said Flynn, “You can actually go see the past. You can touch it and how powerful is that?”
The tour is not school-sponsored and is open to any area students and family members 14 or older. It is being organized through EF Tours and is set to take place between May 29 and June 7, 2013. Flynn said her tour will be joined by another group from somewhere in the United States along the way and is excited for that learning experience as well as the overseas visit.
Flynn has already had one student enroll for the trip and said students in the high school German class have expressed interest. She hopes to organize more information sessions at area schools since there is not a maximum number of individuals allowed on the trip.
“Anybody who can pay their own way can go,” Flynn said. She added that the cost of the trip, which is expensive, may put some people off but she plans to offset some of the cost with fundraising, donations and grants.