From Dachau to Charlottesville

During a trip to Europe this summer, my family spent an afternoon at the Dachau Concentation Camp Memorial in Germany. The oldest of the Nazi concentration camps, Dachau is now a museum where visitors can learn about the causes and effects of Nazi rule. A somber day in an otherwise carefree jaunt through three countries, the experience left a deep impression on my family and me. Throughout the museum, photos, writings, and voices of survivors remind us that the crimes of the Nazi era are not so very distant.


Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial

The museum ushers visitors chronologically through the founding of the camp, and its functioning during the years prior to and during World War II. Visitors walk through the gate that prisoners entered with the empty promise of Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Liberates). Photographs, artifacts, newsreels, and thoughtfully presented exhibits help visitors understand prisoners’ experiences in the camp.

All prisoners were marked by badges that identified the reason for their imprisonment: political activism, religion, ethnic background, and sexual orientation were just a few of the designations. Prisoners were subjected to inhumane conditions: grueling labor, paltry rations, humiliating treatment, rampant, untreated disease, and torture of every sort. The most difficult for me to read about were the medical experiments in which some prisoners were forced to participate, many to the point of death.

A reconstructed barracks unit conveys a sense of the horrific living conditions for prisoners. Most of the 34 original barracks no longer exist, but their foundations are a reminder of the places that once housed thousands of prisoners.


Reconstructed barracks at Dachau Concentration Camps. Multiple prisoners were crammed onto each of these bunks.

Past the foundations, visitors can view the two large crematorium buildings where the bodies of prisoners were burned. Nearly 32,000 people died at Dachau, from disease, malnutrition, and murder. Memorials throughout the camp, now a surprisingly peaceful place, give visitors time and space to process and reflect upon what they’ve seen. We left with a deeper understanding of history and a sense of responsibility to prevent future atrocities.


Camp crematorium, where prisoners’ bodies were burned.

The roots of the atrocities in Dachau were deep seated: centuries of religious intolerance, years of state-sponsored discrimination. The museum documents thoroughly the terrifying rise of Nazi power, and the systematic dehumanization of groups of people.

Dachau reminds us of the importance of vigilance against the subtle creep of discrimination today. It starts with our thoughts, our words, our actions. It is evidenced in ugly acts like the ones last weekend in Charlottesville, and in quieter but insidious racism that we see everywhere. We see it when our neighbors or our leaders or our students make blanket statements about immigrants, or African-Americans, or Muslims. To me, these statements can be just as hurtful as a man who slams his car into a crowd of protesters, in part because they are harder to spot and harder to condemn.

In public schools and through youth groups, Nazis methodically, deliberately taught young people to hate. They started with the young because those are most vulnerable and the easiest to persuade. Those of us who work in schools have a responsibility to teach our young people attitudes of tolerance and acceptance. In Long Walk to Freedom, South African leader Nelson Mandela said:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

He expresses well my core values as a teacher — and as a human. Love must win. People must be taught to love. I must do my part. As a new school year begins, I am planning with that end in mind. Our students need to talk about what happened in Charlottesville, and the larger context of hatred and intolerance in America and throughout the world. This collection of resources is a terrific place to start. I hope and I believe that I am ready for the challenge.  


Conserving Community

Centropa is an organization based in Europe, and dedicated to the preservation of Jewish history. IThe organization started by conducting interviews of elderly Jewish people in Eastern Europe. Each interview began with a simple premise: tell the stories behind your family photos. In the years since, it has expanded to much more. A peek at the treasure trove of resources on the Centropa website reveals not only interviews but short films, student projects, lesson plans, and a vast archive of rare photographs. Behind each resource is a unified mission: to foster connections among people of different backgrounds and beliefs. The more we can understand about each other and how we are linked, the less likely we are to commit atrocities against fellow humans.


A mosaic of Maryland’s past

This February I attended a workshop for teachers in Baltimore, Maryland sponsored by Centropa and hosted by the Jewish Museum of Maryland. There, I met educators from as far away as Texas and Illinois.  Together, we toured nearby Baltimore neighborhoods, learning about the diverse groups of people who had lived in the area over the last three centuries. Residents of different races, faiths, and national backgrounds opened businesses, raised families, attended schools, and worshiped locally. We visited the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Maryland and the third oldest in the United States, which has operated since 1845.


The Lloyd Street Synagogue

While immersing us in the rich history of the Baltimore area, the workshop also inspired us to bring history and community spirit to life in our classrooms. The Milton Wolf Prize, sponsored by Centropa, honors work in community-oriented diplomacy. Students can enter projects that examine a local problem and how it’s being addressed. Several students presented their winning projects during the workshop. I loved seeing their passion and their innovative approaches to addressing environmental and social issues.


Touring Baltimore with Centropa participants

The Milton Wolf Prize also includes a teacher component, for lessons that incorporate the work of Milton Wolf and La Benevolencija, the topic of the short Centropa film “Survival in Sarajevo.” The teacher contest is accepting entries until June 8. If you work in a school, I invite you to explore and enter the contest!


Learning about Maryland’s Jewish history


Going home and getting global

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My hometown, site of this year’s Global Education Forum.

Philadelphia is my hometown, and though I no longer live in the area,  its proud, gritty sense of character appeals to me. I still cheer for the Flyers and love the LOVE statue. When the opportunity came to return to my hometown as a presenter at the Global Education Forum, I didn’t need to think twice.


Krista at the Global Education Forum in Philadelphia.

The forum brought together teachers, administrators, and thought leaders from all over to discuss best practices in global education. Craig Kielburger and Heidi Hayes-Jacobs inspired with keynote addresses that explored the possibilities for engaging students as thinker and doers, examining perspective and taking action to improve their world.


From Craig Kielburger’s presentation: the traits we want our students to have.

Through the generosity of IREX, several alumni of the Teachers for Global Classrooms were able to travel to the forum and host workshops for other teachers about how to globalize instruction. Sara Damon of Stillwater, Minnesota, Faith Ibarra of Ashburn, Virginia, and I collaborated on our workshop, “Motivating Students and Staff to Take Action on Global Issues.” I was delighted to share my school’s Middle Years Exploration into the topic of poverty, a starting point for future service learning activities. (To check out the exploration, you can join our Google Classroom using code gcempu ). 


Sara Damon presenting at the Global Education Forum.

Nothing motivates and inspires quite like connecting with other passionate educators. Thank you, IREX for the opportunity to attend the Global Education forum this year!


Summer adventures

These last few nights, there’s enough crisp in the air that we can sit out on the porch, watching the sun set behind the crape myrtle. Teachers returned to school last week to prepare for the school year. Our school population has grown enough to merit a huge addition, and over half of the staff moved to new digs, including me. My new office is small and bright, and desperately in need of some wall décor and plant life. Summer is nearly over, and oh, what a summer it was!

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My new office, looking spartan.

 The day after students finished, when most teachers were still finishing up with packing and submitting grades, I was on a plane to Orlando to attend the Korean War Veterans Digital History Teachers’ Conference. So soon after the tragic events in Orlando, I couldn’t help but connect current events to the historical ones we learned about at the conference. Thoughts of lives cut short, of divisions and community, of tremendous bravery and selflessness…the highlight of the conference was the opportunity to speak to several Korean War veterans, now in their 80s, and hear their stories.


Memorial to the Pulse Victims, Orlando


Later in the summer, I spent ten days on a grand sweep of the Southwestern United States with my husband and stepsons.


Zion National Park



The Narrows at Zion



Bryce Canyon National Park



Bryce Canyon



Mesa Verde National Park




Pueblo Cultural Center, Albuquerque


ABQ Biopark, Albuquerque


The Grand Canyon




 The best part of the journey was seeing through the eyes of my stepsons many of the same places that had captivated me as a young child. My parents had the wisdom and endurance to crisscross the country multiple times with three young children in a station wagon, toting a pop up camper. As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary, I remember the diverse and beautiful places I had the opportunity to see as a child and an adult.


First time visiting the Grand Canyon


 And now I start a new school year with a continued commitment to bring the world to our students, with same can-do spirit that my parents embraced over 30 years ago. Here’s to a year full of adventure, discovery, and joy!


In fine company

Philippines cohort, East Coast

Philippines cohort, East Coast travelers

I traveled to the Philippines this summer along with 13 other wonderful TGC educators from around the United States. Each of us kept a blog to reflect on our experiences and share them with others. Here are some of my fellow teacher’s blogs, each with a unique voice and perspective on the Philippines:

1. Jennifer Anderson of Oregon provides a generous dose of dry humor along with her insights into teaching and learning in a new place in her blog Teach Travel Share.

“I learned that no matter how much of an old dog you are, there are always new tricks to learn.”

2.  Adventure Is Out There by Julia Brockman. Julia knows a thing or two about cultural integration; a native of Moldova, she now lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Her thoughtful blog contains observant cultural reflection — for example, Julia cites several reasons why you wouldn’t want to be a chicken in the Philippines! She also expresses insight into the educational system and what we can learn from it in the US and beyond.

 The Philippines makes me think. How hard is it to make this work in the US or other places? Does it take much time or effort to rise when a teacher or other adult walks into the room? Does it cost anything to wish someone a good morning and smile? We have spent just 2 days in JRU, but almost every student takes time to stop, wish us good morning or afternoon, smile, or at least wave their hand.

3. To the Philippines and Beyond by Alex O’Callaghan   Alex’s enthusiasm and energy are contagious. Now living in Chicago , she has roots in the Philippines, including a grandmother who still lives there, and she embraced the people and culture of that country wholeheartedly.

I have been continuously amazed and in awe of the talent and creativity I have seen during my time here in the Philippines, these kids are all around incredible, from the arts to academics, I wish everyone could witness this, they are one of a kind!

4. What’s Bruing by Ilsa Bruer  Ilsa  of Portland, Oregon personified a spirit of adventure. She traveled solo to Vietnam and Cambodia following her fellowship in the Philippines! Her travel gave her a chance to shape insights into teaching and indulge a love of world cuisines.

As I continued to walk through the city, I contemplated my gratitude for the diverse group of students I teach and how important it is to me to have their unique perspectives in my class every day. I think about how much we can learn from one another, and how much insight can be gained by listening to one another and trying to understand others’ perspectives. We may not all be able to go on trips around the world, but I know with confidence my students bring the world to my classroom.

5. Global Classroooms by Washington, DC teacher Diana Gibson uses Tumblr’s combination of photos and captions to take us on a visual journey of the Philippines. A science teacher, Diana pays special attention to environmentally sustainable practices and instruction.

I also thought the phrase “feedback is a gift” was incredibly powerful. We talk at our school all the time about growth mindset in which feedback truly is a gift. However, I thought a child might not see the “feedback” or correction he receives from his teacher as a gift at all times… but when the teacher does it with love, it is the gift that she cares enough to want her student to do better.

6. Susan Groff of California also noted the positive energy of the Philippines educational institutions in her blog, Fantastic Philippines.

Again, the positive interaction between students and staff was evident throughout the entire school. Students were actively engaged in learning and having fun in the process!

7. Gail Heard of Virginia writes about the resilient community of Tacloban, ravaged by Typhoon Yolanda, with gorgeous prose in her blog Travel Tacloban.

 Beauty is everywhere in the Philippines. From the pristine white, pressed uniform shirts of the students climbing out of the crowded, chrome plated, colorfully-painted jeepneys, or tricycles, to the beautifully laid out wares in the market place.

8. The sole man in our cohort, Kev Jones of New York appealed to the people of the Philippines with his friendly spirit and his love of basketball! In his blog, Global Boogie Down, he uses his wisdom from years as a teacher, coach, and mentor to advise the young people of the Philippines:

In the end, my message was that whatever was done…is done.  You have to now move forward with the knowledge that every single time you make a decision, you are either moving forward or backwards; what is certain is that you don’t get to remain where you are once you take a decision — any decision.  Don’t focus on where you are, but where you want to go…where you are going, and don’t let the setbacks turn you around.

9. Tara Kajtaniak already had experience with global education; she initiated a global studies program at the California high school where she teaches. Her knowledge served her well as she traveled to the Philippines willing to learn more, From the Boondocks to Bacolod:

Truth be told, we have a lot to learn from the amount of joy and warmth present in the community of Bacolod.  The streets are teeming with life.

10. Sandra Makielski comes from the smallest state, Rhode Island, but her travel experiences are anything but tiny. She has attended teaching workshops all over the world, and then brings her learning back to her seventh grade social studies classroom. In her blog, Footsteps Across the Planet,  she answers many questions asked by her students back home about life in the Philippines.

The students in the schools that I visited listen to pretty much the same music you do.  Can you imagine what they said when I did “The Whip”?

11. Joann Martin of Arizona captivated all of us with her open-minded, joyous outlook. She was often the first to engage others in conversation: students, teachers, people on the street. That mindset is clear in her blog, Learning from the Desert.

I love working with teens! The frontal lobe of the brain is still developing in teens, but usually their critical thinking skills have picked up on injustice in the world. They distill complex problems into simple statements of action. If we could remain teenagers forever, we would be more passionate and less jaded. Teenagers see that the world can and should be a much better place. They are our future, and we are in good hands. My heart and my hope hold me in the classroom.

12. I was lucky to have the hilarious Roma Stutts of South Carolina as my travel partner in Iloilo. Roma has taught in China and Peru, and brings her humor and adventurous zest to her blog, Engaging in Our Global Community.

 If people laugh at you it may be because they’re nervous or self-conscious. It could also be because you’re funny to them.  Get over yourself.


I shall return

I am back in the land of reliable Internet, bright lights, functional crosswalks, dependable air-conditioning, consistently flushing toilets, and water I can drink straight out of the tap.

I am missing the land of crazy jaywalkers, uncomfortable “comfort rooms,” boku halo, warm smiles, ubiquitous Jeepneys, endless coastline. I miss being greeted with a smile and a “good morning Ma’am,” pronounced with an accent that made it sound just like “Mom.” I miss feeling that everyone is family.

I am already plotting my return to the Philippines, but I plan to make a few changes next time. During my next trip to the Philippines, I will:

Visit some more places

Even the youngest Filipino can rattle off the “must visit” places of their country: the beaches of Boracay, the unspoiled paradise of Palawan, the mountains and rice terraces of the Cordilleras.

Beautiful Palawan

Beautiful Palawan. Image source: Flickr

Cordillera rice terraces. Image source: Flickr

Cordillera rice terraces. Image source: Flickr

Engage more directly with students

Much of our time was devoted to official meetings with government representatives and administrators. Next time, I’d bypass most of those meetings in favor of interaction with students. Less schmooze, more kid time.

Selfie with students

Selfie with students

Spend longer in one school

I appreciated the opportunity to see the range of public and private schools in the Philippines, but I longed to spend more than a few hours at a time in one school. Ideally, during my next visit I could spend most of my time getting to know the students of a single school better.

Leganes students (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Leganes students (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Shoes outside the classroom at Leganes National High School (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Shoes outside the classroom at Leganes National High School (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Be more cautious about food

All of the endless meals and snacking in the Philippines finally took their toll. I ended up combating tummy trouble during the last week of my journey. Next time, I’d heed the advice of medical professionals and stick to cooked foods and bottled water only. Raw fruits and vegetables are tempting but are probably to blame for my distress. Don’t worry – a dose of antibiotics when I returned home cured me!

Hold the halo?

Hold the halo?

Learn more of the local language

I visited the Philippines believing that most residents spoke Filipino and English. While it’s true that those two are taught in school, in reality the languages of the Philippines encompass a much more diverse range. In fact, over 100 languages are spoken at home. In the area we visited, most residents speak the Ilongo language. While learning a few words and phrases of Filipino was helpful, even better would be mastering enough Ilongo to navigate a conversation.

Students writing in English, their third language (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Students writing in English, their third language (picture by Sana Mahmood)

Visit old friends and make new ones

I will never forget the friendships I made in the Philippines, especially the kind teachers and students of Leganes National High School. I want to visit them once again, and I also would like to meet more of the friendliest people in the world.

During World War Two, General Douglas MacArthur made a promise to the people of the Philippines: I shall return. And he did. And I shall.

With new friends

With new friends in Leganes

Saying goodbye...for now

Saying goodbye…for now


Magic Penny

Over the last several days, we had the opportunity to visit a variety of schools in the province of Iloilo: elementary schools, high schools, and colleges. Most private schools had affluent students with plentiful technology and other resources, while most public schools functioned with large class sizes and severely limited resources. The desks housed in a museum of historical artifacts at one fancy private school would have been welcome additions in the classrooms at some of the public schools, where students sat at broken, rusted desks or had no desks at all.

Typical public school desks.

Typical public school desks

Private school students.

Private school students

No matter the setting, the best resources in every school we visited were the teachers. Universally upbeat, they teach with passion. Each teacher we observed focused not only on imparting knowledge but also on creating a warm, family-like classroom atmosphere. We witnessed no negative interactions between staff and students. Zero yelling, zero put-downs, lots of supportive comments and occasional gentle reminders, always delivered with a genuine smile.

A high school teacher supports a student as he presents.

A high school teacher supports a student as he presents.

An elementary school teacher models respectful listening.

An elementary school teacher models respectful listening.

Like their teachers, students displayed a consistent attitude of resilience. While I was teaching a journalism class, a storm hit, knocking out electrical power. Strong winds blew through the open windows and shattered glass objects in the classroom. The students calmly closed the windows and continued their lesson, completely unfazed. Their American teacher was a little fazed!

Journalism class in the dark

Journalism class in the dark

Intrepid journalism students (with their trepid teacher)

Fearless journalism students (with their slightly fearful teacher)

As we became more comfortable in different school settings, my teaching partner and I eschewed formal presentations for open dialogue with staff and students. Their insightful questions impressed us. Here’s a sample:

How do you think gay marriage will affect life in the United States?

I think it will improve life in the United States!

Is life in the United States as violent as portrayed in movies?

Nope! One student wanted to know how many shootings there had been at my school, and was surprised when I answered zero.

What will you miss most about the Philippines?

That’s an easy one: the people.

What do you really think about gay marriage?

I support it! At one Catholic school, I quoted Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” and students applauded.

When are you coming back? And will you bring those guapo stepsons of yours?

Soon, I hope, and yes, I hope so!

Music is a central part of life in the Philippines. At each school, students sang or danced for us. The fifth graders at Leganes Elementary performed “Magic Penny.” For me, the lyrics exemplify the attitude of the students and teachers of the Philippines:

Joy is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

So let’s go dancing till the break of day,

And if there’s a piper, we can pay.

To the wonderful students and teachers of the Philippines: like a magic penny, I hope to return to you one day! Salamat and palangga ta ka! Thank you and I love you!

Thank you notes from Leganes National High School students. Gratitude is something if you give it away - it comes right back to you.

Thank you notes from Leganes National High School students. Gratitude is something if you give it away – you end up having more.