Sewickley Academy Middle School teacher honors Tree of Life in lesson plan ‘To be a Stronger Tree’

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 | 8:28 AM

On October 27, 2018, 11 lives were taken during the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. A year later, we are still mourning the loss of our community members. Communities, families and educators are figuring out ways to make sense of senseless acts, and organizations like Classrooms Without Borders (CWB) are leading the way in these efforts. CBW is challenging teachers to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the attack by creating lesson plans to educate students about hate and how to resist it.
Sewickley Academy Middle School history teacher Ms. Kate Lukaszewicz heard and answered the call. She submitted “To be a Stronger Tree:” Understanding Hate Crimes & Resisting Hate in CWB’s Call for Lesson Plans contest and won the first place prize in the high-school track. She received notice of the award from Ran Inbar, Educational Projects Coordinator for CWB. “I’m very excited to write you that you won the first prize in the Classrooms Without Borders’ “Call for Lesson Plans” contest in the high-school track!” Mr. Inbar shared. “Our evaluation committee, comprised of independent teachers and experts in education, gave your lesson plan “To be a Stronger Tree” the highest scores and commented that it’s a remarkable resource that could be used by many other high school educators in the country towards the one-year commemoration of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue,” said Mr. Inbar.
Kate was introduced to CWB in 2015, shortly after she started teaching at the Academy, when Head of School Mr. Kolia O’Connor recommended that she take a trip with the group to learn more about the Holocaust. “Poland Personally was a transformative experience for me; the content was approached with sensitivity and rigor, so I’ve been following Classrooms Without Borders since then. When their email list announced the contest, I knew that I wanted to submit a plan as a means of contributing to CWB, since they have contributed so much to my classroom,” she said.
Kate will teach the first two parts of the three-lesson plan near the one-year anniversary on October 27. “The lesson will help students to learn the timeline of the events, as well as how our country reacted to it. Students will then produce a timeline of hate crimes and government efforts to hold people accountable for committing hate crimes. We’ll use the timeline to draw conclusions about hate crimes in the United States,” Kate explained. “Each year, the Grade 8 English teacher and I lead a cross-curricular humanities project for students who opt into themes of study for the year. This year, I introduced hate crimes and hate speech as a topic, and five students have selected that as their theme. These lessons will set them up to understand the contemporary context of hate in the United States,” she continued.
When asked, what does winning this contest mean to you, personally and professionally? Kate shared the following, “Classrooms Without Borders does such excellent work for teachers and students in the area and I knew that this was place wherein I could support their mission. Equipping students to advocate for positive change is the main reason that I delight in being a civics teacher, and this lesson plan aligns with that motivation. I’m hopeful that the plan will be useful to other teachers, but more optimistic that students can master then transfer to other issues that concern them. I’m also looking forward to attending Classrooms Without Borders’ conference on Antisemitism, Hate and Social Responsibility next month, where I can meet other educators engaged in the same work.
“To be a Stronger Tree:” Understanding Hate Crimes & Resisting Hate is available online in the CWB’s curriculum center. Anyone interested in accessing the materials can register for a free account. The award for Kate’s contribution is a full scholarship for a Classrooms Without Borders travel seminar, worth up to $6,000. The formal announcement about the winners will occur at CWB’s conference about Antisemitism, Hate and Social Responsibility on November 10-11, 2019.
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