Crossing Lines – Tools for Teaching Tough Topics


Twenty-two teachers in the greater Sacramento area attended the Crossing Lines – Tools for Teaching Tough Topics seminar the week of June 22-26, 2015. The seminar was sponsored and funded by The Memorial Library and Holocaust Educators Network with Gail Desler (EGUSD) and Pam Bodner (Marsh Jr. High School, Chico – CA) leading activities each day. This is the fifth year this seminar has been offered in Northern California. For the second year in a row, the seminar took place at Sacramento’s historic Buddhist Church of Florin.

Cross Lines Seminar Students

The one-week seminar provided teachers with the content background needed to create safe spaces for exploring sensitive topics within the classroom, such as bullying, exclusion, and state-sanctioned forced removal and genocide.

Throughout the week, participants had the opportunity to connect with like-minded educators who are passionate about teaching for social justice and providing students with an understanding of the common threads that connect the exclusion and forced removal of any group of people.


This year the focus was on the Secret War in Laos, a chapter from the Vietnam War years that is often missing from district-adopted curriculum. Through the first-hand accounts of Hmong and Mien refugees, a Holocaust survivor, and a former internee of a U.S. War Authority Relocation Camp, participants gained:

  • access to powerful primary and secondary sources for promoting resilience and social justice
  • insights into developing inquiry-based, standards-aligned (Common Core State Standards) lessons
  • an understanding that we often do not truly know who sits in front of us in our classrooms or beside us in our faculty and board rooms and around us in our communities

Teachers listened to and learned from Holocaust survivors, Secret War witnesses and Japanese-American internees while collaborating on developing lessons and activities.


Seminar attendees also explored technology tools for taking student writing and voices beyond the walls of the classroom.


On day four, participants painted papier-mâché daruma dolls created by students in Iielita McTizic’s art classes at Katherine Albiani Middle School (Elk Grove USD). The Daruma Doll is a symbol of resilience in Japanese culture and is often explained as “six times down; seven times up.” When embarking on a major project or commitment, you paint in one eye, symbolizing your commitment to the task ahead. When the task is completed, you paint in the other eye, leaving you with a finished doll and a visual reminder that your end goal has been achieved.


Seminar participants celebrated together by attending a Thursday evening cultural event and dinner at  historic Frasninett’s Restaurant. Hmong dancers were one of the highlights of the night.


Thursday morning, Joe Liow was a featured speaker at the seminar, sharing the story of his family’s exodus from Laos and journey to America (from Thailand to North Dakota!). Thursday evening, the Crossing Lines participants joined again – this time to dance the night away to music from Joe’s Mien.

We are both looking forward to next Summer’s Crossing Lines Seminar in Chico, California.

Gail & Kathleen


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