North Miami Beach Teacher Returns from Special Holocaust Educational Journey through Poland

Christopher Souza one of 20 selected to participate in first immersive professional development trip with Echoes & Reflections

Echoes & Reflections, an organization that helps middle and high school educators build their confidence and capacity to teach the Holocaust effectively, recently welcomed back a group of 20 educators from a five-day journey to Poland. The learning experience, subsidized by Echoes & Reflections as an important element in teacher development, allowed the group to explore, discuss and expand their knowledge of the Holocaust in the places it occurred.

Out of nearly a hundred applicants, Christopher Souza, a history and science teacher at St. Lawrence Catholic School in North Miami Beach, was selected for showing immense passion and dedication for his craft and the study of the Holocaust. The trip gave Souza a chance to collaborate with other educators from across the U.S. about best practices in bringing their experiences to bear in the classroom, and the most effective ways to use Echoes & Reflections materials to do so.

“It was a very intense and intensive trip,” said Sheryl Ochayon, the project director for Echoes & Reflections at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, who led the group. “I was honored to guide educators who set such high standards for themselves and are so motivated to learn. These are the educators influencing our next generation to make socially and civically responsible choices.”

Before leaving for Poland in mid-July, Ochayon asked each educator to research the life of an individual murdered in the Holocaust using Yad Vashem’s Pages of Testimony. Throughout the journey, at relevant sites, the teachers introduced these people to their colleagues — restoring names and faces to otherwise anonymous victims and transforming them from statistics into human beings whose lives were cut short.

One of the group’s biggest takeaways was the power of an individual story rather than a generalized account of history. For both educators and their students, personal stories spark relevance.

“The Holocaust must never be forgotten, but it is up to us to make the phrase ‘Never Again’ a reality,” said Souza.

The group traveled across Poland, once a cradle of Jewish history and tradition, to visit sites like Warsaw, Lodz, Kielce, Tarnow and Krakow, as well as to the sites of murder and destruction like Treblinka, Chelmno and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Each teacher left a piece of home in Poland – a stone from their community, alongside a red rose, was placed by the pond of ashes near the ruins of what had been Crematoria IV at Auschwitz as a symbol of remembrance for the victims, according to Jewish tradition. Since returning home, the educators relayed their renewed passion to keep learning themselves, and to support their students with the courage to question the past and the knowledge to impact the future.

Participants will complete post-seminar work such as arranging an Echoes & Reflections professional development program for teachers in their areas, writing a blog, creating a lesson plan or presenting at a local conference.

The trip to Poland was one of two advanced learning seminars this summer offered through Echoes & Reflections.

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