August 18, 2011
Teachers study European history up close
Cornell grant funds trip to Europe for Cincy, Dryden teachers in effort to expand understanding
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cincinnatus High School social studies teacher Ashley Eccleston, who teaches European studies, recently toured Europe as part of a Cornell University program. Eccleston stands Wednesday in her classroom.
CINCINNATUS — Ashley Eccleston has taught a course about the Holocaust for several years at Cincinnatus High School without any first-hand experience to use, but that will change when school starts next month.
Eccleston, a social studies teacher, joined Dryden High School social studies teacher Kara Wilcox and five others from upstate New York on a tour of four European cities, through a Cornell University grant.
Cornell’s Institute for European Studies sent the seven teachers to Berlin, Prague, Krakow in Poland and Budapest in Hungary to focus on points of modern history, from the remnants of the Berlin Wall to the camp at Auschwitz in Poland, where the Nazis killed 1.1 million people in the 1930s and 1940s.
“I felt this would give me a connection to what I teach,” said Eccleston, whose courses include 10th-grade global studies and electives on the Holocaust and other topics for juniors and seniors. “I never felt a personal connection to it before. England, yes. My family came from there and I’ve done research on England. But not Eastern European countries.”
The trip lasted from July 24 until Aug. 1.
The seven teachers were chosen from about 40 applicants, based on what they wrote about how they would use the material and an interview with the institute staff. They will each have to write a curriculum for a course by Thanksgiving, and the curricula will be posted on the institute’s website so other teachers can see them..
Besides Eccleston and Wilcox, the others were from Horseheads in Chemung County, York in Livingston County, South Seneca in Erie County and Mayfield in Fulton County.
“We put out the word to school superintendents in a number of BOCES, and it was a very selective process,” said Liane O’Brien, the institute’s accounts and grants coordinator.
The trip was part of a $125,000 grant that the institute received from the European Commission, for use in the institute’s outreach program for educators in grades K-12. The project is intended to help teachers in rural upstate communities who might not have the resources to travel or connect with overseas nations in any other way.
“The day I found out, I was giving a test and I checked my e-mail, and I think I screamed,” Eccleston said. “Another teacher took over my class so I could go around the building and tell everyone.”
Eccleston said her highlights included the one section of the Berlin Wall that remains, and the markers for where it once stood; seeing a Muslim mosque and Checkpoint Charlie, where people passed between East Berlin and West Berlin; and eating a jelly donut in Berlin, as a joke because President John F. Kennedy told Berliners in June 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” He was trying to say he was from Berlin but some experts say he misspoke by saying “berliner,” one name for a jelly-filled doughnut.
Auschwitz was a one-hour bus ride from Krakow. It has two sections, one of which is mostly trees and grass with some buildings turned into museums, the other showing the barracks where the camp residents lived before being marched to their deaths.
The camp includes the chimneys left from the ovens where bodies were burned and a tower seen in the film “Schindler’s List.”
“I went up in the tower, and you can’t see the end of the camp itself,” she said.
The group also learned about the persecution of the Roma, a people who travel Europe in bands and are commonly called “gypsies,” a name they despise. Eccleston said the public associates Auschwitz with Jews but thousands of Roma perished there, as well. Because the group was there during the anniversary of the Roma’s liberation from the camp, there were hundreds of people around the teachers, who had earphones with a channel where their guide spoke only to them in English.
The Roma are often discriminated against in Europe, even now, and the group learned more about them through the course of the trip.
They visited a university in Krakow, and spoke with officials from the Czech Department of Foreign Affairs and toured the European Union Center for Roma Rights in Budapest.
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