Tolerance, anti-bullying lessons woven into classroom teachings

Lessons on social justice, doing what is right combined with classroom studies

By Ellie Holmes - News Producer, Courtney Friedman - VJ, Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Teaching tolerance is one of Lisa Berry's classroom goals.

"To teach others that they can be empathetic and they can go from a bystander to an up-stander, and grow their group of up-standers around them, it's just a phenomenal act and gives them skills for life," Berry said. 

Berry teaches fifth-grade at Woodridge Elementary, in the Alamo Heights Independent School District.

She created The Tolerance Unit 14 years ago. With it, she takes lessons of social justice and doing what is right and weaves it into books she already teaches in the class.

"We seek out the four groups of people -- the perpetrators, the victims, bystanders and up-standers," she described. "We analyze the actions that were made, that made them that person [and] what they could have done to change that in their personality."

Berry created the program out of the tragedy that she experienced when she was in high school. 

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"I went went to a very small school. We experienced a suicide in our own class of 59 students, and I was a bystander," she remembered. "It's easy to be a bystander, but its also very, very easy to be an up-stander and help somebody in need." 

Berry also arrived to Woodridge at a time of healing for the district, just seven months after the suicide of David Molak. 

"I think bullying is an ongoing issue," she said. "When I was younger, it didn't involve cyberspace. We as teachers and adults and parents and community members and leaders, we have to help with that; with strategies to combat it." 

Berry said the school not only accepted her but accepted the program with open arms and helped her implement it. 

"The fact that it continues to draw lots of attention with adults and children makes us know we are headed in the right direction," she said.

The lesson this past April -- children of the Holocaust. 

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Through research back when the Tolerance Unit was brand-new, Berry and her students found a survivor -- still alive and living in New York City. In fact, Dr. Inga Auerbacher lives in the same home her parents bought when they moved to America and has visited Berry's classes every year. 

"I live in a very diverse neighborhood; the most diverse in the country: Queens," she said. "We learn from each other. I live between a Muslim and a Hindu family."

Auerbacher spoke to teenagers first at Alamo Heights High School.

"It was really powerful and amazing to get firsthand experience and hear about that. There aren't a lot of survivors," said Brian Yancelson, a sophomore. 

She also spoke to fifth-grade students, a mixed group from Cambridge and Woodridge elementary schools. The 10- and 11-year-olds are a group Berry believes has the most malleable minds. 

"Doing this unit, using children of the Holocaust, is a really great experience for the kids," she said. "They connect with the Holocaust. They feel like they know them by the time they have finished their research projects." 

That is evident in Adelaide Lake, one of Berry's students. 

"It is important to hear her talk because when I get older there won't be many Holocaust survivors around, and we get to actually share their story and tell other people about it, too," she said.

Lake's child of the Holocaust to research was Auerbacher. During her research, she felt called to sketch a photo, inspired by her own baby brother. It is an infant in 1944 from a mother's perspective. 

"He had just gotten off the cattle cars and he is entering Auschwitz death camp, and I got very emotional thinking about how this could happen again in history and how it might happen to my little brother and how very difficult it was for families," she described. 

Auerbacher's message to people is simple. 

"Become friends with people, don't have prejudgments, don't be a hateful person and have hope in your heart," she said. "Hope is very, very important."

For Berry and her students, the lessons are not over. 

'The philosopher George Setayana said 'If you don't remember the past you are condemned to repeat it,' and that's what we push in the classroom," Berry said.

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