HomeShamong NewsSeventh-grade teacher receives humanitarian award

Seventh-grade teacher receives humanitarian award

The students in Michele Montrose’s seventh-grade language arts classes are bloggers, readers and emphasizers. Since the beginning of the school year, Montrose has focused on developing empathy, reducing prejudice and stopping bullying for an overall environment of acceptance in her classes and throughout Indian Mills Memorial School in Shamong.

She has assigned five novels along with writing pieces, short stories and creative projects to achieve her classroom goals.

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The New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education took notice of her nomination form for the Jack Zaifman Humanitarian Award.

“Her practice focuses on human values and concerns, with a main objective to help shape her students’ worldview,” said the nomination written in third person and compiled with the help of interim superintendent Dolores Szymanski.

“I truly believe that Michele Montrose embodies Jack Zaifman’s stated uniqueness, ‘Jack always speaks with the students about the importance of caring for others and not the tragedies he lived through.’ Through her planning and execution of lesson plans, as well as her personal affect, Michele sets the table for the students to care, to empathize, to understand and to accept,” she continued.

On Sunday, April 22, at Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, Montrose and another New Jersey schoolteacher were presented with the $1,000 award and 20 copies of “Tailor Made for Life: The Story of Survival During the Nazi Holocaust,” written by Zaifman, himself a Holocaust survivor.

There were up to 15 Holocaust survivors present in the temple that day, Montrose said, as the presentation was part of a Holocaust remembrance service.

Zaifman himself presented the awards, she said.

“What was really neat was that at the end, they had asked us to get together and take pictures with the Zaifman family,” she said. “As we were finishing that up, there was a line of people who just wanted to shake our hands” and thank them for their work.

“That was powerful,” she said.

The award looks at teachers who promote lessons beyond the historical literature of the Holocaust.

“That’s how we made the match,” she said.

Her 85 students started out the year looking at intolerance and prejudice against people with physical handicaps through the novel “Gathering Blue,” by Lois Lowry.

“Then we look at “The Outsiders,” by S. E. Hinton, for socio-economic situations and biases, she said.

“I’m trying to make the kids a little more aware of theses prejudices that occur and along the way, as well, examine themselves,” she said.

The third marking period is when she focuses on Holocaust education.

“We’ve always had Holocaust studies in seventh-grade,” she said.

Currently, her classes are moving into mythological study.

“In the Holocaust, we talked about the power of a voice,” she said.

Now the students are learning about the heroes of the Greek gods.

“We’re linking it to finding the hero in you,” she said, and using your inner-compass.

“For me, I feel like other curriculum that I’m doing is so fitting for this age because they’re in that pre-identity formation,” she said. “They’re right at the cusp. They’re like caterpillars that are cocooning and will be blossoming soon.”

Montrose uses the school’s Moodle website to help students expand their thoughts on topics of importance.

“It’s really cool,” she said.

At the beginning of the year, students’ responses were skeletal.

“Their writing does get more voluminous as they go,” she said. “I’m not telling them to do this. It’s just natural.”

Her classes at Seton Hall University in South Orange, where she earned her master’s degree in school counseling, were mostly online and influenced her to the style of teaching.

“I just absolutely love it,” she said.

When looking at literature characters, she’s able to make her students peer within themselves to make connections.

“I stem it on a foundation of teaching tolerance,” she said. “Then, I have the kids think about the word ‘tolerant.’ How does it feel to be the recipient of being tolerated? There really is a negative connotation to that.”

The students then brainstorm on what would be a better word usage.

Acceptance.

“We move into the concept of acceptance,” she said.

While Montrose has yet to spend the scholarship money, the school is exploring a couple of options, she said.

“Either to actually release butterflies next year and to bring science into it in that way as well because they are connected that way as well — both in social studies and science,” she said, or to create a Holocaust memorial within the school building.

Montrose has been teaching Holocaust education for about five years, she said, and has always had students decorate the room with sunsets and butterflies.

“There’s famous poetry written by the children of the concentration camps,” she said. “They were inspired to take messages of empowerment with their butterflies.”

The butterflies are a promise to the students to treat each other humanely, stand up and use their voices.

“The sunsets once covered the room,” she said, pointing at a back wall of the classroom.

“They were from ‘The Outsiders,’ where we all see the same sunset.”

She does see a difference in her students as the year progresses.

“They’re more apt to gently say to somebody ‘Don’t steal my butterfly,’ or something like that in a very gentle manner,” she said. “They’re practicing their voices.”

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