Even after spending the last 33 years educating students on the horrific hardships many Jews faced during the Holocaust, Barry Zavislan yearns to learn more on the topic.
So after Zavislan, 55, was informed by a colleague at The John Carroll School in Bel Air earlier this year of the 11th annual Summer Teachers Institute, he knew he had to sign up.
For Zavislan, who has taught exclusively at Catholic schools in Maryland, Delaware, Michigan and Wisconsin, the experience to further his own education about such a complex subject proved worthwhile.
“Anything new, anything fresh, anything that will help me stimulate the modern student is really what I’m looking for out of something like this,” Zavislan, who teaches religion and philosophy, said. “It’s always fascinating when you hear different speakers and their approaches, where they came from, and it’s great to be able to integrate those facets in my attempt to educate students about the Holocaust.”
Since 2005, the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Baltimore Jewish Council have conducted the three-day seminar to educate teachers like Zavislan on the effects of the Holocaust through U.S. history, government, English, language arts and world religion.
Anything new, anything fresh, anything that will help me stimulate the modern student is really what I’m looking for out of something like this.” — Barry Zavislan, religion and philosophy teacher at The John Carroll School
This year’s event, which took place Aug. 1 to 3, was one of the best attended. More than 45 teachers from both private and public schools in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County, Howard County and Prince George’s County attended. It kicked off with a day of speakers and discussion at Beth El Congregation and included trips to the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
There are activities, discussions and presentations designed to provide teachers with the necessary tools to engage their students in the classroom. They include video presentations of Holocaust survivors chronicling their experiences in concentration camps, guest speakers and survivor testimony.
The theme of this year’s event was “Holocaust Remembrance through the Arts,” which explored the role art, film and music played in the Holocaust.
The museum trips have become staples of the program. During these visits, participants said they received a well-rounded comprehensive narrative of how Jews lived through historical artifacts and personal stories.
Deborah Cardin, deputy director of programs and development at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, has witnessed the positive result the program has had since its inception.
“There is a sense of community we build among the educators,” Cardin said. “They really can use each other as resources, and many teachers come back year after year. Even though there may be some repeat information, there’s just so much they can pick up that they didn’t see the first time, including our educational resources and programs.”
To build that comradery, icebreakers were created to get teachers to open up to one another about their careers and lives. One of them consisted of teachers passing an empty paper plate around in a small group of four to eight people where they spent about two minutes discussing what they envisioned.
Delana Penn, a librarian specialist at the Natural Academy Foundation of Baltimore, said the exercise made her more comfortable to open up and share her views as the conference progressed.
“I think we hear a lot about [the Holocaust] — and I’m a believer — that you just can’t really comprehend the substance of everything that happened until you see it up close,” Penn said. “I think we try to compare to it to different things, but until you see it for yourself and discuss those things with others, it’s, like, ‘Wow.’ It’s the ‘wow’ factor.”
Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs at the BJC, said she is pleased with how far the workshop has come in such a short period of time. She is working to add more teachers to the program from other counties around the state, as well as other Jewish organizations.
“With people just reading and learning and absorbing this stuff, it really has a big impact on them,” she said. “It’s hard to take in all the information in just one session, so we tend to see a lot of teachers return to continue gaining as much knowledge as they can.”
The information Zavislan came away with is something he has already implemented into his lesson plans for the upcoming school year. His hope is that he can relate the material to his students by drawing parallels to social issues that persist around the globe today.
“The more we can prepare our students to understand history and not repeat it is very important,” Zavislan said. “It’s also hard to get across the idea to suburban kids that there is suffering in this world. There are people who have a hard go of it, and there are people out there who would be willing to kill you for who you are and what you believe. And to make students aware of that is probably the primary goal of this information.”