Interview and Article by:
Jen Goss, VA (MTF 2010)
Firefighter, father, hockey player, friend, and educator. These are just a few of the words that one can ascribe to Todd Hennessy (Denver, CO; MTF 2000). Todd gives his all no matter what area of his life one is examining and his dynamic personality make his friendship and collegiality an unequivocal treasure. Although the path he has taken since his entrance into the field of education has been less than traditional, Todd has given back to educators in the field a thousand times over through opportunities he has helped to create in Colorado and nationwide.
Todd graduated from Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University, Mankato) in 1993 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Secondary Education/History, and a minor in Geography and Athletic Coaching. His first teaching assignment was at the very middle school he had attended – Eagle Valley Middle School in Eagle, Colorado. There, he taught U.S. History, Civics, and Geography for seven years. He then moved to Castle Rock Middle School in Castle Rock, Colorado for two years teaching U.S. History. His last transfer was to Highlands Ranch High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Todd spent a year teaching U.S. History there before feeling a pull to enter the fire academy. Today, his full-time position is with the South Metro (Denver) Fire Rescue; however, teaching about the Holocaust still plays a central role in his life.
During his years in the classroom, Todd taught a two-week integrated Holocaust unit within the Language Arts curriculum. It was this experience that sparked his interest in furthering his formal Holocaust education at the Museum. In 1997, he participated in the Belfer Conference and in 1999 he attended Belfer II. Todd’s acceptance into the Museum Teacher Fellowship program in 2000 was the next logical step, and as it has been for all of us, it was truly life-changing. Of the MTF program, Todd shares, “Without question the MTF program has made me a better educator. The approach, support, resources, and the people involved with the MTF program continue to amaze and inspire me to be a better educator, parent, and person. We are a part of something very special. Earn it, enjoy it, respect it, and never stop learning from it.”
Todd’s journey with the Museum continued in 2002 when he was one of the Belfer classroom facilitators. He also began teaching a Holocaust course for the Introduction to Judaism class sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council and began teaching part-time for the Holocaust Awareness Institute at the University of Denver’s Center for Judaic Studies and for Temple Sinai’s Religious School facilitating their Holocaust curriculum. While he was enriching the lives of others, Todd didn’t cease learning on his own. In addition to the opportunities with the Museum, Todd also participated in the Jewish Labor Committee’s Summer Teacher Institute, Yad Vashem’s International Conference on Education, the Auschwitz Jewish Center’s Faculty Fellowship, Yahad-In Unum’s European Educators Conference and countless classes offered through institutions, synagogues, and universities.
In 2011, six MTFs from the Denver area, Kirsten Aarested, Barb Figg, Peter Mehlbach, Carrie Olson, Mark Thorsen, and Todd founded the Colorado Holocaust Educators (CHE). Todd states that, “Our goal was to create an educational non-profit that would seek to promote, exemplify, and support quality Holocaust and genocide education throughout the state of Colorado. With the guidance and pedagogical approach we had already received from the Museum we saw a need and fit for our goals in Colorado.” At the MTF 20th Anniversary event held in 2016, Todd shared the ups and downs of this journey.
To date, since their first sponsored training in the spring of 2012 the Colorado Holocaust Educators have facilitated over 500 hours of Colorado Department of Education re-certification, trained over 1,200 educators from eleven states, have participated in twelve different educational programs in six countries, and have partnered with over 30 like-minded institutions on three continents. Their most recent success was a multi-week collaboration with Yahad-In Unum’s Holocaust by Bullets program and exhibit, which also included collaboration with CHE, USHMM, and Colorado schools and universities. In total, over 60 educators were in attendance including eleven MTFs from four states.
It is this work that leads fellow MTF, Andrew Buchanan ‘11 to call Todd, “an engaging, collaborative and thoughtful driving force in Colorado. [He is] constantly looking for new and exciting ways to reach and teach Holocaust history.” Andrew’s quote captures the essence of Todd who says in regards to Holocaust education that, “I’m really looking forward to the future, there are tremendous people out there with fantastic ideas. Change is already happening, and the early results are very positive and impactful.”
In closing, I asked Todd to share advice with with MTFs who are at the start of their career as Holocaust educators but it is really advice that can resonate with all of us. “Listen, read, ask…..then do it over and over again. There is always something new to learn. There will always be someone with more knowledge, experience, and insight. We must always strive to be better students, better researchers, better educators.”