[ Teaching & Learning ]

Western NY teachers lauded for human rights education

By Sylvia Saunders



alamanca teachers Brooke Canale and Brandy Kinney have been honored by the New York State Board of Regents for their outstanding work educating students — and the community — about the Holocaust and human rights. The pair received the Louis E. Yavner Teaching Award in September.

Canale, a social studies teacher, and Kinney, an English language arts teacher, have been working more than a decade together on interdisciplinary lessons and creative projects to spark interest in human rights education.

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa praised the pair’s work on an “Atrocity Museum” project that had students research human rights issues and work with the school’s technology department to create 3-D printed artifacts.

Salamanca teachers Brooke Canale and Brandy Kinney smile for a photo together

Salamanca teachers Brooke Canale and Brandy Kinney received the Yavner Award for bringing human rights education to life.

“The experience changed how I thought about the Holocaust. When you research all their possessions, letters they’ve written to their loved ones, and the drawings of their children … it makes you think about how horrible and immense it was and look past the numbers in a typical textbook.”

— Salamanca student Mitchel Schnaufer

“Using real-life accounts and artifacts, these women open a window to the past,” Rosa said. “They are leaders and mentors to their colleagues and have developed lessons that stay with students well beyond their school years.”

Regents Chancellor Lester Young Jr. said human rights education is increasingly timely — and needed.

“Recent incidents of antisemitism and racism exemplify the continuing and critical need for the work these educators have dedicated themselves to,” Young said as he presented the awards. “They understand the power history can have on our future and illustrate for our young people the importance of standing up and speaking out against hatred and injustice.”

Kinney and Canale, members of the Salamanca Teachers Association, said they have also tied in local connections. “We’re a public school located on a Native American reservation,” Canale said. “There’s a lot of history of human rights violations within our community and the Native American community in general.”

There’s a civics component as well, where students learn about tolerance and being an activist, Kinney said. “And we’re making sure kids are still writing and reading, too,” Kinney noted. “We’re disguising all of our research and requirements as fun.”

Kinney has spearheaded enrichment programs that support student learning and civic development. She has taught literature studies on the history of antisemitism and a special class on human rights violations.

Canale served as advisor for International travel and student government clubs. In 2019, she collaborated on the human rights violations elective class, which encourages students to explore human rights issues in the modern world, such as the Darfur, Rwandan and Cambodian genocides.

Yavner Award

The Yavner awards were established by the Board of Regents and funded by the late Regent Emeritus Louis Yavner of New York City, who served on the board from 1975−81.

The Yavner Citizen’s award went to Julie Golding, an educator and curator at the Holocaust Museum & Center for Tolerance and Education. She organized the public burial of ashes of Holocaust victims who were murdered at the Chelmno Death Camp in Poland that were given to the Suffern museum by a local Holocaust survivor.

In response to the brutal attack at a synagogue on Hanukkah 2019, the museum has introduced a new program designed to combat antisemitism through education. For an education toolkit featuring lessons and accompanying videos geared toward middle and high school students, go to holocauststudies.org.

At a time when New Yorkers are increasingly worried about a rise in hate crimes and antisemitism, Gov. Kathy Hochul this summer signed legislation requiring SED to review whether school districts are adequately providing instruction on the Holocaust, as mandated under a 1994 law.