By Stephanie Susskind
WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (WPTV) — Several Palm Beach County teachers are heading into the new school year with a renewed sense of passion and purpose when it comes to teaching about the Holocaust.
The educators recently spent several days at a summer institute learning new techniques to tackle this serious subject.
Three Palm Beach County teachers were among 28 middle and high school teachers and Holocaust Center staff from 13 states to be chosen as 2023 Alfred Lerner Fellows, participating in the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Summer Institute for Teachers.
Palm Beach County was the only county from Florida selected to attend.
Forest Hill Community High School teacher James Johnson, Palm Beach Gardens Community High School teacher Susan Burns, and Okeeheelee Middle School teacher Paul Sauberer represented the School District of Palm Beach County. inSIGHT Through Education co-president Kelly Warsaw joined them as well.
“It’s a huge tool. I learned so much,” Johnson said. “Every time you teach the Holocaust, you learn new things about what happened.”
Johnson, a history teacher at Forest Hill Community High School in West Palm Beach, just got back from a five-day master class of sorts on teaching the Holocaust, a topic receiving a lot of attention in Florida schools.
“It was very impressive, especially with some of the other educators that came from around the country,” Johnson said.
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous hosted the high-level seminar in New Jersey, with some of the top speakers on the subject. It gave teachers like Johnson a new perspective to bring to the classroom.
“We focus too much on the numbers, which can be overwhelming. So we need to start to focus on individual stories. So using diaries or biographies of people who went through it — both victims and rescuers as well — it makes it more personable for the students who are learning about it,” Johnson said.
“We believe that the support that we give has made Palm Beach County one of the preeminent programs for Holocaust education in public schools around the country,” Warsaw said.
inSIGHT Through Education, a Palm Beach County organization that funds local Holocaust education, sponsored the trip.
“In promoting the education of teachers, we are able to reach so many more students,” Warsaw said.
Both Warsaw and Johnson agree that with an increase in anti-Semitic incidents locally and around the country, this history is one of the most important subjects they can teach.
“It’s scary that in the 21st century, there are still people denying that something happened not too long ago,” Johnson said.
But with more teachers with a greater depth of knowledge, Johnson hopes to make a change.
“It goes back to the saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it,” Johnson said.
Johnson added that he’s really looking forward to working with the teachers, not only at Forest Hill High School, but around the entire School District of Palm Beach County as they work to bolster their Holocaust education.
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