University of Pittsburgh - B.A. in History; University of Pittsburgh - Master of Arts in Teaching
A number of my family members are teachers, including my mom, aunts, uncles, and grandmother. Teaching has always been a popular career path in my family, so when I finished my undergrad in history at Pitt, it was a natural and logical transition to graduate school to become a high school history teacher. In addition to my family members constantly inspiring me, I’d probably give my first grade teacher, Mrs. Anderson, credit for making me fall in love with school at a young age. Then, during my middle school years, I had some amazing science teachers who got me involved with ecology and environmental science, which led to some internships during my college years at the Natural History Museum in London, England and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
Since 2006, I’ve been a Shaler Area School District secondary social studies teacher, but I now spend the majority of my day with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh team as the Director of the LIGHT Education Initiative (LIGHTinitiative.org). LIGHT, an acronym for Leadership through Innovation in Genocide and Human rights Teaching, seeks to inspire, prepare, and empower students for innovative leadership roles in genocide and human rights education and advocacy, with Holocaust remembrance as the foundation, and incentives for participation at the core. I created LIGHT when I noticed a need to create safe/brave spaces within schools - LIGHT Centers - dedicated to the more serious and challenging topics in humanities, where students can spend their time working on projects that go beyond the classroom walls deep into the heart of the community.
I’m still in the field of education because there’s so much potential and opportunity to spark real change within a community through school systems. Young people are truly the best change-makers in our society, with mountains of untapped potential to use their STEM skills to spread kindness and empathy through the humanities. What I’ve identified - which is where I see my role these days - is the lack of a strong support network and structured program to incentivize collaboration among humanities teachers within schools, and also within the broader Pittsburgh region.
I see so many positive examples of innovative leadership in our local teachers and students, but many of the best projects and people are working in silos, unfunded, under-promoted, and under-supported. If I can support those projects and people in some way, and connect them to existing community resources, like our unparalleled collection of community museums and cultural sites, then I’ll consider LIGHT a success. Also, I’m constantly reminded of the words of our local Holocaust survivors, like Moshe Baran, who once said, “I have an obligation to lead a life that is useful to the community.” While I’m still able to work, I feel obligated to help transform remembrance of the Holocaust into action for all contemporary victims of identity-based violence and discrimination.
I see the same injustices and inequalities that all schools and communities in America see. My kids watched violent extremism during a political transition in America. I was in college post-9/11 during the age of Islamaphobia. My mom was a teenager during segregation. The first President my grandmother voted for was FDR, who was President during the Holocaust and WWII. Her mother wasn’t even allowed to vote because she was a woman, and her grandfather fought in the American Civil War, the main cause of which was slavery.
These painful historic moments in our American history textbooks and our family histories happened yesterday, not to mention the painful moments in American history happening right now to traditionally marginalized groups, like minority populations, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Asians, etc. If you need examples, sadly, look to the Tree of Life tragedy or the murder of George Floyd, among countless others.
The wounds inflicted on the soul of America during the periods of slavery, colonization, imperialism, and the genocide of our indigenous population are deep, and will take many generations to heal, but scars will always remain. In the age of the internet, it should come as no surprise to all Americans that inequality and inequity are very real problems for many groups of people, because the internet has given us no excuse for “the excuse of ignorance, the alibi of stupidity and incomprehension,” in the words of Aldous Huxley. However, if the Holocaust taught us anything, there’s a real and present danger in the power of propaganda, scapegoating, demagoguery, and indoctrination, both then and now.
The changes we can make to shift the field are the ones that will truly make our schools more tolerant, more equitable, more inclusive… more kind, loving, compassionate…. LIGHT is not the panacea, but it does provide a useful toolkit for schools to more easily inspire, prepare, and empower our students for leadership roles in genocide and human rights education and advocacy, which will ultimately leave our schools and communities slightly better than we found them. If everyone pitches in, and helps our young people act “at their level” to make subtle improvements to their schools and communities, we’ll begin to see real change.
One day I hope my children will see Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of a “Beloved Community” come to fruition, “in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.”