For three days this summer, three Byng Elementary School educators delved into the history of the Holocaust and other massive human rights violations.

Counselor Carrie Boyd and teachers Crystal Shaw and Erin Roberson recently attended the Candy Brown Holocaust and Human Rights Educator Conference at the Dallas Holocaust Museum in Dallas. Shaw teaches sixth grade at Byng Elementary, and Roberson now teaches English at Ada Junior High School.

The three-day conference was designed to give teachers the tools they needed to teach the history of the Holocaust and other human rights-related topics to their students.

The conference was a life-changing experience, Shaw said in an email Friday.

“The classes offered were absolutely exceptional,” she said. “Not only did they give you background knowledge and history of the Holocaust, they also gave tools and information to take back with us to use in our classrooms.”

A news release from the museum said the conference featured presentations by Holocaust and genocide survivors, professional educators and experts on Holocaust history, the Rwandan genocide and the Cambodian atrocities. Breakout sessions covered topics including issues facing LGBT people, human trafficking and Burundi’s refugee crisis.

Boyd, who attended the conference for the second consecutive year, said a dinner with Holocaust survivors was one of the event’s highlights.

“Interacting with them — they’ve been through an unimaginable, horrific experience, and yet they are such positive people and thankful for just the smallest things,” she said in a phone interview. “They have every right in the world to be bitter. Instead, they are taking this horrible thing that happened to them and turning it into a positive thing by educating people about it — our students and teachers.”

The conference also included a panel discussion moderated by Marcia Albert, director of photography for the Dallas Morning News. The panel included photojournalists Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson, who discussed their experiences covering global human rights crises.

Roberson said the conference gave her new insights into the history of the Holocaust.

“I just came away with a better understanding of what actually went on during that time period,” she said. “I had more insight into what it was like in Europe, what it was like in America. It gave me more of an emotional connection to it than I think I had before, and it made me really excited to teach it.”

Being an ‘upstander’

The heart of the conference was the idea of being an “upstander” — standing up against injustice instead of standing by as it unfolds.

Boyd said there were plenty of bystanders during the Holocaust, and their experience applies to modern students as well. She said the conference prepared educators to teach students that they must speak out against injustice and practice kindness to others.

“We may not all agree on our beliefs, but we are all human, and we all deserve to be treated with respect and kindness,” Boyd said. “‘We don’t have to agree, but we can all be respectful and kind.”

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.