Here's what the Education Department at Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) has been up to over the past month.
Freedom Day Kicks Off Start of the New School Year
The 2023-2024 school year got off to a great start with FSWC hosting the 14th annual Freedom Day student event. Held this year at Toronto's Mel Lastman Square, hundreds of Toronto-area students attended in person and thousands more joined the live stream online to commemorate the life and legacy of Simon Wiesenthal and listen to a panel of remarkable speakers and performers share their personal thoughts about their life experiences and the value of freedom.
TV and radio personality Rick Campanelli returned again this year as MC for the program and engaged each of the performers and speakers in thoughtful conversation. Speaker's Idol 2023 finalist and Pickering College student Sonya Kovtun, born in Ukraine, delivered powerful speech about the meaning of "home" in the face of war. Holocaust survivor Hedy Bohm shared a poignant testimony of her suffering at the hands of the Nazis, reminding the audience that each and every person has the power to make a difference. Social media influencer and traditional hoop dancer Notorious Cree spoke about the importance of personal identities and celebrating one's culture, and also performed a traditional healing dance. Two-time Juno Award winner Kairo McLean put on a special performance while also talking about the power of words and music in self-expression.
Students had a chance to complete the statement "Freedom is . . ." on a banner in the square, while those who joined online also participated in a virtual activity that asked students about freedom. Some of the responses from students were:
Freedom is . . .
If you weren't able to join us online or in person for Freedom Day, you can watch the recording of the program below.
Mark your calendars for September 24 for Freedom Day 2024!
We hope to see you there!
Notes from the Road
The FSWC education team was back on the road - both with the Tour for Humanity and our in-school workshops - earlier than ever this year. Both buses have been making stops at Toronto-area schools and the education team has been visiting both elementary and secondary school classrooms.
The students have been incredibly engaged in thoughtful conversations. Just last week, students who were participating in a Media Literacy and Online Hate program opened up about their experiences. When taking part in the "stand up if…" activity, almost all students rose when asked if they had witnessed or experienced hate online, but very few stood up when asked if they had reported hate online. We took the opportunity to discuss the importance of reporting hate online, and what steps they can take to report it.
In this conversation, a student shared, "It is important to report hate even if your friends call you a snitch. You are doing the right thing and not being a bystander."
The FSWC education team's calendar is almost full this fall and dates in the winter/spring are starting to fill up. We are also looking forward to heading west in 2024 with the Tour for Humanity. Stay tuned for updates coming soon.
FSWC Professional Development in Demand
School boards from across Ontario have been reaching out to FSWC for support for their Grade 6 teachers tasked with meeting the new Grade 6 social studies curriculum expectations on the Holocaust and Jewish heritage. Each training session is tailored to the unique needs of each school board, while remaining rooted in a strong pedagogical foundation highlighted by best practices in Holocaust education.
School boards, including Wellington Catholic, York Catholic, Waterloo Catholic, York Region, Upper Canada and Simcoe County, have engaged in these learning opportunities for their teachers. We look forward to continuing to work with these boards, and the many others who have reached out to schedule this training.