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THREE TEACHERS AND ONE CEGEP PROFESSOR GAIN OPPORTUNITY TO STUDY AT YAD VASHEM IN ISRAEL THIS SUMMER

MONTREAL,  MAY  3 ,  2013-   Four teachers, including two from the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), one from the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) and another from a French CEGEP in Trois-Rivieres, have formally been presented with scholarships for a three week experience as part of the Yad Vashem International Seminar for Educators.

Vincent Gagnon, from Vincent Massey Collegiate in Rosemount and Georgia Gotsis, from Merton Elementary School in Côte Saint-Luc (both EMSB) will be joined next summer at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel by Laurence Assouline from Beechwood  Elementary School (Lester B. Pearson School Board) and Gina Lavine, from Collège Laflèche in Trois-Rivières.

Ms. Gotsis  was recognized at the April 24 EMSB Council of Commissioners meeting while Mr. and Mrs. Hecht  visited Vincent Massey on April 30 to congratulate Mr. Gagnon during one of his French classes. This turned out to be a true opportunity in authentic learning as Mr. Hecht left the Secondary I students virtually speechless as they listened to his extraordinary tale as a child Holocaust survivor who escaped the Nazis when they invaded Czechoslovakia. Speaking in both French and English, Mr. Hecht was encouraged to see how many students have seen the movie Schindler’s List about a righteous gentile who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Mrs. Hecht commended Julie Etheridge, a 2012 scholarship recipient from the same school who like her colleague Mr. Gagnon teaches art at the school. She has integrated what she learned from her Israel experience into the curriculum.

The Hechts will host a formal reception for all of the scholarship recipients at their home at the end of May.

The teachers will take part in  a professional development program  under the direction of the Faculty of the Yad Vashem Seminars for Educators from Abroad, International School for Holocaust Studies.  The goal of the program is to provide professional development activities to teachers for teaching about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to students in the youth Sector. Each recipient will be asked to create at least one teaching unit or module developed within the context learned. This is the eighth year for the program, with 25 teachers having gone through it with full scholarships.

Ms. Gotsis is a   Cycle 3 English teacher at Merton  During the  Remembrance Day celebrations last November, she invited a  World War II  veteran who shared his wartime experience in the Canadian Navy on a naval destroyer.  The students were impressed with this senior citizen who was able to remember so many details of those years and the life lessons he took with him such as  tolerance, cooperation, respect for one’s fellow man and a lifelong love of learning.  During the October Jewish Book Month, her  Cycle 3 students had  the honour of having the critically acclaimed author Kathy Kacer, winner of the National Jewish Book Council Award, the Yad Vashem Award and the Canadian Jewish Book Award as a guest speaker.  Ms. Kacer gave an inspiring presentation of The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, a historical novel based on her mother’s heroic experiences during the Holocaust years. ``My students felt very touched by the author’s personal connection to the story and with the promise of adventure, mystery, courage and honour, eagerly asked if we could choose this novel for our class study this year,`` she said,  noting that this did occur.

 ``My experience working on The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, gave me the confidence to present the Holocaust using a young reader friendly approach.  Rather than feeling intimidated or less than competent in presenting the historical events, I can attest to an increased sensitivity  as well as a heightened awareness of how we can present events of the Holocaust in a more enlightened way; conscious of the need for sensitivity and understanding of the range of feelings this subject may engender in pre-adolescent students.  Hence, attending the summer workshop will increase my knowledge of the subject and equip me with valuable teaching tools to bring to my classroom, school and  wider community.  It is apparent that educators need to continue to teach the younger generation, our future leaders, of the hardships and cruelty of war and ensure equality and justice to all prevails.  Our goal is to teach children of all ages that all people are one and the same, from one universal creator.``

Mr. Gagnon emphasized that as a teacher and a military officer of the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve living and working in Québec, he feels social justice is calling on him to assume his professional obligation to learn and educate Canadian and Québécois youth about human rights, equality and democracy.  “For personal interests, I have a desire to expand and build my knowledge in the field of anti-Semitism,” he said.   “I would like to meet teachers in the same predicament and work collaboratively and creatively with dedicated colleagues from across the country.  As an educator a highly politicized province with complex issues namely around cultural division and self-determination, this is an inviting opportunity to acquire tools to tackle the question of prejudice against a group of people for reasons due to their cultural heritage. I believe this is my duty as a teacher to better serve my students, colleagues, and community.”

Mr. Gagnon worked with his colleague Julie Etheridge on a project related to the Legacy of Raoul Wallenberg, a righteous gentile who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. “The interactive project that I undertook with my students was to give them a voice in order to explain to their peers, through creative drawing and a collaborative stop-motion animation video,  how the legacy of Raoul Wallenberg and his message are still relevant and significant in their own life,” he explained.  

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Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213
E-mail: mcohen@emsb.qc.ca