Interview and Article by:
Jennifer Goss, VA (MTF 2010)
“He is a scholar, an activist, a role model, and one of the most decent people I know,”said Lou Pellegrino when describing his colleague Stu Abrams (West Hartford, CT; MTF 2000) in his successful nomination for the Prudence Crandall Memorial Award. Museum Teacher Fellowship Coordinator, Kristin Thompson, shared that she “couldn’t agree more! He is truly one of the most humble, kind-hearted, and insightful people I’ve had the honor of knowing.” Kristin had a chance to get to know Stu when they both took part in a 2011 trip to Poland coordinated by USHMM and the Polish Embassy. The trip allowed MTFs to meet with Polish educators in an effort to discuss the future of Holocaust and Genocide studies in both countries. It is but one of many incredible experiences in the storied teaching career of Stu Abrams.
Stu’s teaching career began at the same time of Lincoln’s second inaugural address…at least that’s what Stu jokingly says about his start at at Suffield (CT) High School in 1971. In 1992, he came to his present school, Avon High School. He has spent a total of 32 years in education but admits that it feels more like 32 minutes…under water! Outside of the classroom, Stu also remains very active educating his community about the Holocaust; most recently, he served as a guest commentator accompanying the film, Divided We Fall, at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford (CT). In 2015, Stu was selected as the Co-Chair to help launch a new statewide organization,The Connecticut Human Rights Partnership. The mission of the CHRP is to “develop, support, and publicize educational and co-curricular opportunities through a network of interested individuals and organizations with expertise, skills, and proficiencies in the field of human rights.”
In 2000, Stu was named a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Mandel) Teacher Fellow. When asked about the impact of the MTF program on him professionally, Stu responded, “Was it the most profound professional experience in my life? Without question. By far! Nothing comes even close!! The exposure that I had to experts, historians, survivors, architects, colleagues, etc. is something that I simply can’t quantify. I’m still using material and resources that I acquired back in 2000.” He speaks of his fellow Fellows with profound admiration and also shares that they and then Fellowship Coordinator, the late Dan Napolitano, (“May his memory be a blessing”) continue to impact him professionally and personally every single day.
Stu’s work extends beyond the realm of the Holocaust and is most deeply entrenched in the field of Human Rights. His motivation for starting the Genocide and Human Behavior course at Avon High School nearly 15 years ago was built on the belief that, “the Holocaust was NOT the only genocide of the twentieth century and how those other events continue to resonate and influence us even today.” His district supports him in this aim and now requires all students to take a course in Human Rights education in order to graduate. The course is coupled with a capstone activity that is referred to as a Senior Mastery Project and includes a “10 page thesis-driven research paper and a 30 minute presentation.” According to Stu, “These ‘presentation nights’ have become one of the highlights on our school calendar.” But for this educator, every Monday is also a highlight – it is the opportunity to start a new week doing something that he loves.
A listing of awards and honors bestowed upon this incredible educator would span pages; however, there is a side to Stu that exists outside of the realm of education – as much as one can. He will celebrate his forty-fifth wedding anniversary this June (claiming they got married as pre-teens) and counts among his blessings two wonderful children and two amazing grandchildren. You may be thinking that you missed meeting Stu at the MTF reunion last summer and that is because he is going into his 25th year working at Camp Wah-Nee this June and was unable to get away to join us last July. He says, “[I’m] Not sure what else to say about my summer home other than I feel as if I have truly been given a gift.”
The future holds more incredible adventures for Stu. This April he will be chaperoning an eleven day trip to Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, and Krakow. He calls it the “Avon High School Freedom Tour.” Students will visit, among other places Terezin, Treblinka, and Auschwitz and will celebrate a Passover Seder at the Jewish community center in Krakow. They will have the opportunity to meet survivors and enjoy these magnificent European cities along the way.
In closing, we asked Stu to share some advice for MTFs who are closer to the beginning of their journeys. He shared two key points. The first was to, “never lose your passion. Students seem to be able to pick up insincerity in a heartbeat.” He also noted that we should be sure to introduce our students to the Righteous Among the Nations as it is “the focus on rescuers that allows me to continue to do what I do. Holocaust education must never be only about human wrongs, but it must also consider, understand, and appreciate human rights and the heroic imagination in reverential terms. Holocaust education must never be just a discussion of the depravity of humankind but also a celebration of the grandeur of humanity. Our students must know that they too are heroes in waiting, just waiting for that moment to make the moral choice and demonstrate their own personal courage in whatever context they may find themselves.”