Interview and Article by:
Jen Goss, VA (MTF 2010)
In late spring of each year, I look forward to the day when a special booklet arrives in my mailbox. This booklet, featuring the journey of high school students on the Holocaust Study Tour profiles their stories as they make the journey to Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic under the guidance of master educator, Colleen Tambuscio (Riverdale, NJ; MTF 1998), who has coordinated this incredible opportunity for 18 years with colleagues and fellow MTFs, Bonnie Sussman (CA, MTF 1998), and Lisa Bauman (KS, MTF 1998). According to Colleen, “The program seeks to engage students in an in-depth study of the Holocaust at authentic learning sites in Germany, Czech Republic and Poland. [It] emphasizes local history and has created partnerships with local communities in each country to study the historical narrative of the Holocaust in each country and to develop partnerships to preserve this history. In Trisce, Czech Republic, the HST program researched and created a partnership with the local mayor and community to preserve the historical underground hideouts that hid Otto Wolf and his family for three long years. (i.e. Otto Wolf’s diary is featured in Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust by Alexandra Zapruder and is a core text for many educators teaching this history.) The partnership between Trsice and this program evolved from the curiosity of the students who read Otto’s diary annually and teachers involved in this program.
An additional partnership with three teachers, Jurek Stelmach, Jolanta Stelmach and Pawel Chojnowski from Dabrowa Tarnowska High School in Poland was established four years ago. These educators helped restore the synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska and make it a cultural and education center which most importantly tells the history of the Jewish community of their town. These teachers have hosted a regional Yom HaShoah program for the past 18 years which includes student theatrical, musical and vocal performances in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish demonstrating cultural and religious aspects of the history of Jewish life in this region. We have been privileged to witness this meaningful remembrance program each year during our visit.”
With Colleen at the helm of this amazing journey, it should be of no surprise that she was recently honored by Princeton University as an outstanding secondary educator in New Jersey. The impact of this experience and her work in the classroom as both a special education and Social Studies teacher is far-reaching. She is now in her 33rd year of teaching. Having spent the first 17 years of her career at Midland Park High School as a teacher of the deaf in the subjects of English and History, Colleen now teaches at New Milford High School. In her 16 years at New Milford, she has created two courses in the History Department – “The Holocaust, Genocide and Human Behavior” and “Contemporary Genocide: A Call to Action”. It is through these courses that students can take the opportunity to participate in the Holocaust Study Tour, as well as a trip to USHMM.
Colleen still maintains a role in Special Education, serving as New Milford’s Special Education Department Liaison. In fact, it was through her work in special education as a teacher of the deaf that Colleen first attended a teacher training focused on the Holocaust at William Patterson University (NJ). This training coincided with the introduction of the mandate in New Jersey in 1994 and it was there that Colleen says that she realized how, “relevant this topic was for my deaf students and began designing programming that not only met their educational needs, but focused my entry point on the marginalization and murder of the handicapped during the Holocaust.”
Four years after that first workshop, Colleen was named a Museum Teacher Fellow. Of that experience, Colleen shares, “My experience as an MTF remains the single most important and sustaining training program I have participated in throughout my career. I have created life-long relationships with teachers who have become dear colleagues and close personal friends. The MTF network is so strong that these relationships come from my fellowship year and beyond.” Those who have been fortunate to work with Colleen as a result of her connection with USHMM will concur wholeheartedly that she is a true asset to this network, never being too busy to lend an ear or an idea to teachers of all ages and abilities, both near home and far away. In fact, her work with educators and her dedication to this topic led to her continued partnership with Alexandra Zapruder to provide supportive educational materials for Zapruder’s Salvaged Pages. In 2015, Colleen was part of a launch of materials through Facing History and Ourselves that help educators work with this crucial text in their classrooms. Both before and since, Colleen has also presented at conferences regionally and nationally on this topic and many others related to Holocaust education.
In 2001, Colleen established the Council of Holocaust Educators in NJ and currently serves as their president. This professional development organization works closely with the NJ Commission on Holocaust education to encourage, foster and mentor new teachers in the field. Additionally, they sponsor an annual conference for educators. Colleen believes that this role and the others she fulfills help to continue important work that maintains relevance in “our modern social, political and cultural times worldwide, [and] unfortunately, reminds us to keep vigilant in our teachings of such a dark era in human history.”
This mentor of many also offers advice to new MTFs who are just embarking on their journey. She shares, “Embrace the opportunity to learn and create educational programs for your students through the network that the fellowship affords. When we are back in our schools we find fewer and fewer like minded individuals. The Fellowship cadre affords each one of us an extraordinary opportunity to network with individuals who care as deeply as we do about the teaching of the Holocaust.”
In closing, I offer you a quote that truly embodies Colleen’s spirit. Friend and fellow MTF, Lisa Bauman, said of Colleen – “No matter how busy she is, she always manages to fit in one more thing if it means teaching about the Holocaust. She makes every student feel loved and she lives the messages that she teaches.”