By KAYLA J. MARSH
HOLMDEL — A local teacher joined more than 20 others for a seminar aimed at delving into the complex history of the Holocaust and inspiring new techniques to introduce the subject into classrooms.
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), which works to preserve the legacy and provide monthly financial support to more than 440 aged and needy non-Jews throughout the world who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, selected 28 middle and high school teachers from 11 states, Croatia and Poland as this year’s Alfred Lerner Fellows.
The fellowship program, JFR Summer Institute for Teachers, an intensive, five-day course offering lectures and contemplation on a variety of topics related to the Holocaust, took place June 26-30 at Columbia University in New York City. Participants are Alfred Lerner Fellows.
“I was approached [about the program] by Dale Daniels [executive director of the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights and Genocide at Brookdale Community College],” said Michelle Eddleston, a teacher in the township.
“I’ve been working with her for a few years with different programs that she does and she approached me at Brookdale’s 34th annual colloquium in May and told me that she would like to nominate me and [sent me] information [and I] read through it and … was like ‘wow [this is] amazing.’
“I was so honored that she had thought of me to do it and that we have such a nice working relationship. I was really excited.”
Participants of the fellowship program come from areas where the JFR operates a Holocaust Center of Excellence.
Teachers selected must be an English or social studies teacher at the middle or high school level, have taught at least five years, are at least five years from retirement and currently teach the Holocaust in their classroom.
Eddleston teaches World History at Neptune High School in Neptune.
Along with Eddleston and teachers from states and countries including Maryland, New Hampshire, Texas, Washington, Florida, Kansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Ohio, Poland and Croatia, the 2016 Alfred Lerner Fellows included four additional teachers from New Jersey from the Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton University and the Kean University Holocaust Resource Center.
“New Jersey is a mandated state, one of a handful in the nation, that requires the teaching of the Holocaust in its schools, however, it’s a mandate that does not have funding with respect to teacher education,” said Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the JFR.
“While there are a number of very excellent teacher education programs that are in the state, they’re usually one-day programs and … the importance of this program … and the [mission] of the institute is to provide educators with a … grounding in the history of the Holocaust.”
During the seminar, participants get to meet and hear from Holocaust survivors and noted Holocaust scholars, meet in small groups and address the specific aspect of the Holocaust presented and share teaching concepts and develop ideas to introduce the subject matter to students.
“In New Jersey we have a fairly large Jewish community, but if you’re in Alabama or certain parts of Texas or Kansas, there are no Jews, so there are certain subjects within the … teaching of the Holocaust that some teachers may have difficulty teaching … so they learn the history, they get to ask the scholars questions and then get to discuss amongst themselves, ‘Do you teach this specific aspect of the Holocaust in your classroom and if you do, how do you approach it?’
“There’s a bonding process and teachers make connections so … there is all sorts of externalities that come out of the program [and] what will come out of it I believe will be enriched classroom teaching, a more complete classroom teaching and different ways of approaching the students.”
Eddleston said there’s a lot of information, ideas and resources she received due to the program.
“Some of the speakers’ lectures really stand out in my mind for certain aspects because … what they brought was a different perspective or way of looking at things,” she said.
“We can go into great detail with students, but then you can also lose them with said detail, but when you can find ways to simplify and then go and look at the bigger picture, to pick things apart … to me that was really useful.”
Eddleston said being surrounded by and interacting with educators from around the country and other nations also helped shaped the experience she had.
“Being able to participate with all of the different educators … was priceless,” she said.
“… There are certainly different perspectives that so many educators from all over brought so it was beneficial because not only did we have the intellectual lecture, but then we also had the teacher session which allowed us to collaborate with all of these different ideas and activities and … that was really just probably the best thing because even though you may have done some things similar, you get a totally different perspective.
“It wasn’t just all of the content that was so intensive and so eye-opening from the scholars, but the teachers and those sessions were just so beneficial.”
As part of her agreement with Brookdale and the fellowship program, Eddleston will assist in helping to design and implement programs and curriculum projects in the future, act as a resource and mentor for her school, revise a lesson plan she has done in the past for the Holocaust based on what she learned and much more.
“Lots of things go into the agreement, it is not just being chosen and then going and doing all of the lectures, it’s [about] committing yourself to the program and the center,” she said. “One of the things that I am going to do with Brookdale is help them with their permanent exhibit that they’re moving into tablets, so that the students when they come will be able to use interactive tablets with the different parts of the exhibit.”
Stahl called this year’s group of participants “phenomenal.”
“The centers for excellence that have them … are blessed to have these individuals in their schools,” she said. “These are the teachers you want for your children.”
The fellowship program is named in memory of Alfred Lerner, founding chairman and chief executive officer of the MBNA Corporation and longtime supporter of JFR programs and activities, who passed away in October 2002.
Since its founding, the JFR has provided more than $37 million to aged and needy rescuers.
For more information, visit www.JFR.org.