March 4, 2019
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
For students, the question was simple and straight forward.
What’s the Holocaust?
They genuinely didn’t know.
Johnna Paraiso, an English as a Second Language instructional technology facilitator at Stewarts Creek and Holloway high schools, embraced the question as a teaching opportunity that could potentially change the lives of her students.
She immediately organized a fieldtrip to the Nashville Holocaust Memorial, which is located at the Gordon Jewish Community Center.
During their visit, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission saw what Paraiso and her students were doing and, according to Paraiso, “liked the work … and wanted to replicate it.”
This was during the 2017-2018 school year.
Paraiso was encouraged to apply for the 2019 Belz-Lipman Holocaust Educator of the Year and was recently chosen as one of four winners from throughout the state.
When asked about the honor, Paraiso focused her answer on students.
“I was proud of my kids,” said Paraiso, who never talked about herself. “They wanted to learn more.”
She said every teacher dreams of a classroom filled with “kids who were hungry for more.”
Paraiso and her fellow honorees — Megan Krupa (Kingsport), Rachel Mattson (Memphis) and Mary McIntosh (Memphis) — will be recognized during the Tennessee State Annual Day of Remembrance Ceremony on Tuesday, April 9 in the House Chamber at the State Capitol.
The ceremony begins at 10:30 a.m.
This year’s theme is “We remember Them: Tennessee Voices of the Holocaust.”
Paraiso’s project is an example that shows ESL students can study and learn difficult subjects and issues — even while learning English — if instructors make lessons accessible, according to Paraiso.
As part of being selected as an educator of the year, Paraiso said, “The commission wants me to create a curriculum for Holocaust studies for English learners.”
For the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, this curriculum is one more piece to fulfilling its motto of “Let all generations remember so that it never happens again.”