Northern California Seminar-Crossing Lines: Tools for Teaching Tough Topics

Date: June 15-19, 2020
Location: Sacramento, California

How do we bring the experiences of Japanese-American WWII internees, refugees of the Secret War in Laos, and the survivors of the Rwandan genocide into our classrooms? How can their experiences be shared within a wider historical lens, connecting their hardships with those of Holocaust survivors in Europe? That driving question is what educators will explore during a 5-day professional development seminar which will take place in Sacramento, California, in 2020. Our Northern California Seminar– Crossing Lines: Tools for Teaching Tough Topics, will convene for its 9th year to bring together educators to discuss cultural competence and how to integrate sensitive issues and create safe spaces in the classroom. The overarching goal of the Northern California Crossing Lines Satellite Seminar is to promote school site leadership in teaching global acceptance and writing for change. A secondary goal is to help students make connections between historical events of the past (“then and there”) to more recent events (“here and now”). The seminar connects experiences from the Holocaust with those affected by the Rwandan genocide, the Japanese-American incarceration, and the Secret War in Laos. Focusing on the power of stories to promote the acceptance and appreciation of all cultures, the seminar brings together Holocaust survivors, Japanese-American internees, Mien and Hmong refugees, and Carl Wikens, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, to share their family histories, personal experiences and lessons learned.

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  • Gail Desler

    Gail Desler is a technology specialist for the Elk Grove School District (California). Using technology to help students cross the line from bystander to upstander is central to her workshops. Her passion for teaching for social justice has been nurtured by the Area 3 Writing Project, the National Writing Project, and the Olga Lengyel Institute

  • Pam Bodnar

    Pam Bodnar is a retired middle school counselor at Marsh Jr. High in Chico California. She is a passionate advocate of social justice and cultural awareness. Pam is dedicated to training student peer mediators as peace ambassadors through Holocaust Education programs and international travel experiences.


For more information about The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI), please contact

TOLI is located at 58 East 79th Street in Manhattan. (get directions)