Hundreds of area teachers are spending part of the summer vacation in class, taking advantage of workshops to improve their teaching skills and even learn some new ones.
Upper Deerfield Township music teacher Spencer Lau spent four days on Broadway with composers and directors.
Atlantic County Special Services School art teacher Sarah Friedley spent a week working with glass artist J. Kenneth Leap.
Oakcrest High School science teacher David Jungblut tracked terrapins in Barnegat Bay.
Linwood teachers Suzanne Manzini and Amy Ojserkis met with Holocaust survivors and scholars.
Revised professional development regulations adopted by the state Board of Education in June require each teacher to develop an individualized professional development plan and complete 20 hours of professional development each school year. The revised standards for professional learning focus on connecting what the teachers learn to how and what students will learn.
Locally, Richard Stockton College hosted a Google Camp in July and this week hosted a two-day Holocaust workshop for 100 teachers and a weeklong Artist/Teacher Institute for an additional 34. On Thursday, Galloway Township Middle School will host a free Padcamp technology “unconference,” which has registered 450 educators from around the region.
Participating teachers said the programs are educational but also personally inspiring. They felt honored to meet and work with respected scholars and artists, and were enthusiastic about how they could share what they learned with their students.
“It’s just thrilling to be able to paint in a studio with colleagues,” Buena Regional elementary school art teacher Eileen Mattison said as she worked on an oil painting in artist Kit Sailer’s class at the Artist/Teacher Institute workshop. “At this morning’s lecture we talked about teaching art, and how we can give students the basics but also give them room to express themselves.”
The Holocaust workshop, this year co-sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., explored how to present sensitive topics to children of different ages. In one exercise, teachers used photos to tell the story of the Holocaust. Participants also got to meet with survivors Betty Grebenschikoff, of Ventnor, and Donald Berkman, Sidney Simon and Joseph Rosenberg, of Margate, who have written books about their experience and autographed many for the teachers.
“I’ve had two of the survivors visit my class,” said Oakcrest history teacher Doug Cervi. “I always learn something new at a workshop, and this year with both Stockton and the U.S. Holocaust Museum involved, I knew the quality would be excellent.”
Oakcrest’s Jungblut, who received an award this spring for a lesson he developed on water and air pollution, was one of eight teachers chosen for a Princeton University Quest Program project studying the impact of severe-weather events such as Hurricane Sandy on terrapins in Barnegat Bay. They tracked nests, vegetation and predators, and found they all seem to have survived Sandy, but some trees appear to be dying, which may indicate changes in the long-term habitat.
Jungblut said his five days were both stimulating and exhausting. He already is “brewing” some ideas for classroom lessons.
“I always get the students involved,” he said.
Lau’s five days on Broadway in New York City sound more like a fantasy trip than an educational workshop, but Lau said he’s already begun implementing some of the tips in the summer theater program he runs in addition to being director of music at the Woodruff School in Upper Deerfield.
“It was four days with the best composers, writers, choreographers and directors,” he said of the Freddie G Broadway Experience. Lau was one of eight teachers nationally chosen for the program. He stayed at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and met “Glee” star Matthew Morrison.
“It was a crazy and life-changing experience,” he said. “These people wanted to know what we needed as educators and how they could help us.”
Paul Winkler, executive director of the New Jersey Holocaust Education Commission, said teachers are crucial to the future of Holocaust education and the study of intolerance. He said there are only 1,800 known Holocaust survivors in New Jersey, about 250 of whom are active in education, and it is teachers who will keep the message alive.
“I am concerned that because of what is happening in education (with all of the testing) that Holocaust education could be put in the back room like an old cassette player,” Winkler said. He said good teachers have to talk about Holocaust education in the context of the global situation today, and he was thrilled to see teachers of all ages in the audience.
Gail Rosenthal, director of the Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton, said there was a long waiting list for the workshop, and teachers came from all over the state.
Manzini, who teaches at Belhaven Middle School in Linwood, said there are concerns statewide that new state assessments will be more time-consuming and take away time from teaching. Tight budgets have also cut into the opportunity to take students to the Holocaust museum in Washington. But she and Ojserkis said the resources at Stockton were fabulous and offered many ideas for lessons.
“We can relate it to bullying at the elementary school level,” Ojserkis said.
“This is the consequences of prejudice,” Manzini said. “That’s what we try to teach.”
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