Indiana teachers can get one week of free Holocaust education training this June
UPDATE: The five-day seminar has been cancelled because too few teachers signed up to participate. WVPE learned of the cancellation via email on Monday, June 6. The original article is below.
Indiana teachers can get one week of free Holocaust education training next week through five-day seminar in Ligonier being run by two Noble County educators.
Ashley Libben has been teaching at West Noble School Corporation for 15 years. Her first experience teaching students about the Holocaust was when she switched to eighth grade language arts 12 years ago, and Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” was part of the curriculum.
“My first time teaching it with kids — they just took off with their questions,” Libben said. “And the beautiful thing was that it was so organic, because I didn’t know either.”
That prompted her to seek out Holocaust education training.
“I wanted to do a better job for them, and I wanted to do a better job for the victims of the Holocaust and do the topic justice,” she said.
Through the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers' Program, Libben met with educators from across the country in Washington, D.C., visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and then travelled overseas to visit historical sites.
“It was a powerful, transformative experience, and I came back wanting to know how to bring that to my classroom,” Libben said.
Sarah Wilson is currently the K-12 curriculum director for West Noble School Corporation. But back then, she taught high school social studies and psychology in the classroom next door to Libben.
She’d already been teaching the Holocaust — it’s mandated by law in Indiana — but after Libben’s first training, Wilson asked her to come speak to her students.
“I was always looking for better things to pull into the classroom,” Wilson said. “One of my goals, always, was to put faces and names to events, and to make kids realize that those people that were around 1,000 years ago, 100 years ago, 50 years, weren't that much different than us.”
Later on, Libben found The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies, or TOLI, and took part in its summer seminar in New York City.
The organization was founded by Ola Lengyel, who wrote the 1946 memoir “Five Chimneys: A Woman Survivor’s True Story of Auschwitz” — one of the earliest published accounts of the Holocaust.
Libben said her previous training focused on the history of the Holocaust. TOLI, however, was different — it focused on “talking about the pedagogy, and how you’re going to bring this content into your classroom.”
She wants more teachers to get the same experience. So now, she and Wilson are partnering to host a five-day TOLI Holocaust education training seminar for Indiana educators from June 13 to 17.
It’s being held in the Noble County city of Ligonier, which had a thriving Jewish immigrant community in the late 1800s, and will be structured around inquiry-based learning — so lots of open group discussions, questions and time for reflection.
Wilson said one key focus is how history is told, and who gets to tell it.
“And a lot of times, the victims don’t get to have their side,” Wilson said. “So, we want to be speaking for those victims, those people in history that don’t necessarily have the power.”
They’ve partnered with the South Bend and Fort Wayne Jewish communities to bring in a wide variety of speakers.
That includes David Lindquist of Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, a South Bend rabbi who will introduce teachers to Jewish culture and life and the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
“We’re hoping to make connections for people, so they can meet these people, ask these questions, but then also take these relationships and these connections back into their own classrooms,” Libben said.
The five-day seminar is free and funded by TOLI. All participants will receive books and teaching resources, breakfast, lunch and $100 stipends to offset the cost of travel thanks to additional funding from outside partners — the Kurt and Tessye Simon Fund and the Robert and Toni Bader Charitable Foundation.
Libben said the training has been in the works since 2020, but it’s been pushed back a few times due to the pandemic. The long term goal? Making it a yearly event and creating a community.
“The best advertising for these programs are teachers sharing with other teachers,” Libben said. “We have a community at the national level of teachers that have taken part in these trainings, so that we can have these discussions and dialogues.”
“It would be really nice to have that in Indiana, too,” she added.
The training program still has slots available. Indiana educators interested in participating can register online.
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