LACEY, WA, June 6 – If Sarah Thomas could do it all over again, she would major in Holocaust or genocide studies in college. “I attended my first big conference on the subject in December of 2000,” she explained, “and that changed me.”
This summer, the high school English teacher will participate in two separate fellowship programs to learn more about the Holocaust, gaining experience, materials and new ideas to bring back to the students she teaches at Rochester High School.
“Kids are attracted to the subject,” Thomas explained, adding that the popular, semester-long course is full every semester. “It’s a difficult topic, but it encourages a lot of self-reflection in them. They wonder, ‘How did this happen? How is this still happening?’”
In June, Thomas will fly to New York as an Alfred Lerner Fellow to attend the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR) Holocaust Center for Excellence Summer Institute at Columbia University. She will join 30 educators from the U.S., Poland and Croatia in an intensive, five-day academic seminar.
The high-level program encourages fellows to meet in small groups after each lecture to address the specific aspect of the Holocaust presented. Breaking out after each topic allows the educators to collaborate about teaching concepts and approaches to introducing the subject matter back home.
In August, Thomas will attend the Powell Holocaust Summer Institute at the Henry and Sandra Friedman Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle. The 25 teachers in attendance will be the first-ever cohort of Powell Fellows. Here, the fellows will explore in-depth topics of the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights. Each day will focus on selected themes and will include reference and discussion of today’s world and local connections, common core standards and practical applications for the classroom.
“We’re at a critical time of learning about the Holocaust,” Thomas said. “The survivors are reaching an age that many of them are passing, and with them, the world is losing those first-person narratives.”
Rochester School District Superintendent Kim Fry said, “These two, coveted fellowships will enhance Sarah’s already outstanding instruction of the Holocaust. Her summer of study will be an invaluable asset to our students and our team.”
Rochester School District provides rigorous academic programs to more than 2,200 students, preparing them for lifelong learning, rewarding careers and productive citizenship. The district’s students and staff have received numerous state awards, including being named a 2013 and 2014 Washington State “School of Distinction,” and recently the #1 school district for teacher support in all of Washington.