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ADL’s 3rd Annual Summer Educators’ Institute Reaches Hundreds of Central Texas Educators
Wednesday, 01 August 2012
ImageEveryday teachers go to work and face the challenge of educating our youth.  Budget cuts, poverty, changing political priorities, accountability measures all add to the difficulties of being an educator. 

“In the media, they are criticized, scrutinized and often undervalued,” said Kelly Laudenheimer, GLI graduate and Summer Educators’ Institute co-chair.  “When I learned that ADL offered a five day professional development institute designed to help educators foster inclusive campuses in a setting  that makes them feel valued and appreciated, I signed up to help.”

As co-chair of the 3rd annual Summer Educators’ Institute (SEI), Laudenheimer, along with a group of committed volunteers, crafted a week-long program that was highly participatory, substantive and left educators with a wealth of new resources which they can take back to their schools.

SEI, generously funded by the Tocker Family Foundation and co-sponsored by the University of Texas Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, invites educators to discuss issues of race, gender and social inequity that exists in our own city and classrooms. The Institute gives educators a chance to learn new cutting-edge research and curriculum while creating a safe space to grapple with their own biases.  Not only were they part of the discussion, they also gained practical anti-bias educational resources to take back to their classrooms.

“As a current educator myself, I wanted to make sure that if I was going to attend this during my precious summer days, the sessions would be valuable,” Laudenheimer said.  “When sitting in my first planning meeting for SEI, I quickly realized that the work we were doing was truly a gift to educators.  Each day was tailored around a theme and was prepared to be interactive, informative, and practical. It far exceeded my expectations, and based on the teachers daily feedback, theirs as well.”

The opening session of the Institute always includes the presentation of ADL’s Excellence in Education award. This year, the ADL honored Leander High School teacher, Karen Lousma, with this recognition.  What made the presentation of this award that much more meaningful was having her students, who nominated her, present to speak to the many ways Ms. Lousma helps make positive change on campus and in her student’s lives.

Throughout the week, there were three separate opportunities for teachers to hear from panels of students about the real issues they are facing in school related to bullying. Not only did they get a chance to hear students’ voices, but they got to see how these students were empowered to take action to decrease bullying and cyberbullying.  These students, in their student-led organization, were trying to change the culture of the school to not tolerate hateful speech and hold their peers accountable for their words and actions.

Not only did educators hear from students, but also many excellent teachers throughout the area on ways they are teaching social justice in the classroom. While one teacher presented specific culturally diverse books another showed how she incorporated digital media in order to give students more of a voice in challenging the status quo.  “Since the conclusion of SEI we’ve seen a call for action on Facebook, where teachers are joining their new colleagues to design curriculum that will help promote cultural awareness and inclusiveness in classrooms and schools in AISD,” Laudenheimer said. These proactive educators plan to work on this over the summer to present to AISD principals in the fall.

“One of my highlights for the week was hearing Joan Means Khabele speak to her own experience growing up in Austin during Jim Crow and integration. You could hear a pin drop as participants listened  to Mrs. Khabele, a local Austinite,  speak about being one in a group of 8 African-American students to integrate Austin High School,” said Laudenheimer. “Hearing about her years of battling racial discrimination in Austin and fighting against it through sit-ins and education was truly an inspiration.” One participant, with tears in her eyes, reflected on her own teaching with hopes of empowering her students to make Austin a better place, one where people accept you no matter what your skin color, gender preference or social status.

The ADL would like to extend a word of gratitude to its volunteers and committee members who worked so hard to create a meaningful educational experience for all of the participants and speakers. 

For more information about ADL Austin’s Summer Educators’ Institute or to learn more about the organization call 512-249-7960.
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