FORTVILLE — As an educator, Marisa Cocokios recognizes the information she shares with her students will likely stick with them for years to come.
She takes the responsibility seriously, just as she expects her students to treat the subject matter. That sense of duty recently led Cocokios, an eighth-grade history teacher at Mt. Vernon Middle School, to attend the Belfer National Conference, an intensive three-day workshop about the Holocaust and the best way for educators to teach about the subject. The conference, which was conducted at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, drew more than 200 teachers from across the country.
Cocokios said she applied to attend the conference because she thinks there’s a widespread lack of knowledge surrounding the Holocaust and its effects, but it’s something she wants her students to understand.
Holocaust, a word of Greek origin meaning “sacrifice by fire,” refers to the murder of six million Jews by the Nazi Party between 1933 and 1945 during World War II. Other groups also were persecuted as well, including Poles, Roma Gypsies and other Slavic people the Nazis deemed racially inferior.
The Nazis’ actions devastated most European Jewish communities and eliminated hundreds of Jewish communities in occupied eastern Europe, according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“Few people are aware of the true impact of the Holocaust, and as a result I don’t think it’s talked about as much as it should,” she said. “By getting that knowledge out there and spreading it around, it can clear up any misconceptions or confusion.”
She plans to share the concepts she learned at the conference with her students as they learn about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide throughout history, she said.
Cocokios also is sharing her expertise with eighth-grade language arts classes, in which students read “The Diary of Anne Frank,” she said.
Peter Fredlake, director of teacher education at the museum, said it’s essential to equip teachers with the best ways to approach teaching about the Holocaust, a complex topic that can be difficult to broach with students.
“Many people have an oversimplified view of the Holocaust,” Fredlake said. “Some think that it just happened all of a sudden and only because of Hitler, but really, there were events that began building at the end of World War I that laid the groundwork for it all.”
Participants also heard a Holocaust survivor speak at the conference who described her experiences inside a concentration camp.
Mt. Vernon Middle School Principal Scott Shipley said he likes it when teachers take the initiative to pursue outside workshops related to the subjects they teach.
“Educational conferences and workshops are great ways for (teachers) to learn new tricks of the trade and new content to use in class,” Shipley said.
Shipley said he encourages teachers to work together and lend support to one another, as Cocokios has done with other departments.
“We’re always looking to see teachers collaborating with each other and sharing resources,” he said. “Then they can build off each other’s content, which is a great way to deepen a student’s knowledge about a subject.”
Ultimately, Cocokios said, she hopes to leave her students with an understanding of genocide and the lasting effect it leaves.
“It’s important to get across to students that genocide continues to happen even today,” she said. “It’s an ongoing issue, but it’s one that we have to continue educating our children about.”