Florence County School District teachers Pam Smith and Monica Gatzow have been selected to receive a $6000 grant from the Fund for Teachers Organization. The Fund for Teachers (FFT) is a unique foundation whose mission is to enrich the lives of teachers and students by providing recognition and opportunities for renewal to outstanding teachers. Making a difference one teacher at a time, FFT awards grants directly to teachers to support professional development opportunities of their own design. Over nine hundred teachers nationwide applied for this grant. Gatzow and Smith were two of 300 teachers that were awarded this grant.
Fund for Teachers is the brainchild of Apache Corporation Chairman Raymond Plank, who started the organization in 2001 after years of educational philanthropic endeavors in Minnesota and Colorado. In conjunction with Apache’s 50th anniversary this year, the company plans to raise $50 million for Fund for Teachers endowments across the Untied States, Apache itself has committed to providing $15 million over three years.
To be eligible for this grant, applicants must have a minimum of three years teaching experience (public, private or parochial), spend 50 percent of their time in the classroom, and be employed as a pre-K through twelfth grade teacher in an Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound (ELOB) school. Florence County Middle/High School has been an ELOB school of the past three years. Applicants were required to propose a summer activity and explain how the activity would make them better teachers.
The goal of Gatzow and Smith’s grant proposal is to increase their own personal understanding of the Holocaust and the role that intolerance, ignorance and prejudice played in this tragic period in history. They will also enhance their knowledge and understanding of the Jewish religion and culture as it is practiced in the United States today. In order to gain a greater understanding of the events surrounding the Holocaust and the tragic consequences resulting from it, the two will visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C. This museum and its vast resources will provide them with a greater appreciation for the victims of hatred and intolerance and will also provide them with resources to use in potential expeditions with students involving the Holocaust and prejudice and intolerance. While in Washington, D.C., Smith and Gatzow will visit the American Red Cross National Headquarters to gather information on its response to the Nazi genocide of Jews during the Holocaust.
The pair will also travel to New York City where they will access the vast resources of the Museum of Tolerance and Simon Wiesenthal Center to gather additional information. One program they will explore is called Bridging the Gap. It offers a unique opportunity for students to interact with Holocaust survivors on a one-to-one basis through video conferencing. The goal is to personalize for students the tragedies that were caused by the Holocaust through the exchange of questions and answers with a Holocaust survivor. The message that these survivors posses in regards to the horrors of hate and intolerance takes on a greater importance as the generation of survivors dies out.
While in New York City, Smith and Gatzow will also visit Jewish communities such as Crown Heights in order to gain a greater understanding and first hand knowledge of the Jewish customs, culture and religion. Additionally, they will visit Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which chronicles the stories of immigrants, both Jewish and non-Jewish. A visit o the Anti Defamation League will provide information about contemporary anti-Semitism and the programs they offer such as the Ghetto Fighters Book Sharing Project. This project involves pairing American and Israeli middle school students together in a project to expand cultural understanding of our two countries. Students in paired schools read the same Holocaust related books and then correspond with each other via the Internet. Their goal is to learn more about the valuable human resources available through The Speaker’s Bureau of the Hidden Child Foundation, which alerts students to the consequences of bigotry, racism and persecution.
According to Smith and Gatzow, “Teaching and preaching tolerance and understanding of cultures different from our own is one thing, but living and experiencing that tolerance and understanding is vastly different. Our desire is to walk among the people in their neighborhoods, not in our textbooks, and to speak with people who know a life totally opposite to ours and a heritage nowhere near ours. We want to immerse ourselves in the recorded history and artifacts of museums, to hear the firsthand accounts of those that have suffered from the injustice and prejudice and intolerance, and learn from the experts of another culture so that we can internalize the ideals that we so want to share with our students.”
The Holocaust unit has traditionally been one of highest interest and involvement for Florence students. They explore the horrors of this period of history, but also realize the strength of human spirit through survivor stories and the resistance movement. The issue of tolerance can be applied to peoples of any color, religion, ability, age or gender. The two teachers believe that the knowledge that they gain from this experience when funneled though well-planned expeditions will not only benefit the students served, the student body and staff, but also their small community as a whole.
“He who changes one person, changes the world entire” (Norman Conrad). Gatzow and Smith plan to first educate themselves to promote a positive change and then to share their newfound information with their students so that they can change the world and make it a better place…a place free of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. They are willing to do this one student at a time.