It’s a weighty and powerful job to teach children about one of the most infamous genocides in modern history.
And about 25 educators from across the state spent some of their summer learning how best to do just that.
This week, a group of teachers came to Manzano High School for New Mexico’s Olga Lengyel Institute Holocaust seminar.
“Teaching the Holocaust for Social Justice” aims to help teachers emphasize the importance of the subject matter while balancing the heaviness of such a traumatic point in history.
Teachers spent the five days learning through writing prompts, videos, studying events leading up to the mass genocide and speaking with a Holocaust survivor.
The free program – offered to all teachers in the state – shows how to teach on the Holocaust, with the goal of starting impactful dialogue on human rights in general.
The presentation drew dozens of applications, but the group is kept to around 25 to create a close-knit environment.
Teachers also learned how to make lessons age-appropriate, how to foster kids’ empathy, the integral part of identity and the importance of teaching the human narratives of the Holocaust.
About 100 New Mexico educators have gone through the program, now in its fifth year, so far, according to co-organizer Michelle Thompson-Loyd.
“Students need a 360-degree look at the Holocaust,” said Thompson-Loyd, adding the program combines writing and history to help achieve that.
Co-organizer Leslie Lawner has seen the benefits of teaching her seventh-graders about the Holocaust: empathy, critical thinking and media literacy.
But she also highlights the importance of teaching it in a responsible way without damaging people’s psyche.
“In recognizing the factors that created the Holocaust, we can help recognize it in modern day,” she said.
Lawner noted that teaching about the Holocaust has become less common, leaving people ignorant as to what happened only decades ago.
Local teachers Lawner, Susan Quintana and Thompson-Loyd are the leaders of New Mexico’s program, having been trained in New York City through TOLI’s two-week program. Through that training, they saw a need to bring a workshop back home.
Teacher Christine Gonzales said she has learned things that will impact the way she teaches all subjects. She says she will be more aware of making lessons personal and relatable to individual students. “It really provides me good ways to approach these subjects in the classroom,” she said.
The annual presentation is expected to return next summer.