Andrew Beiter (left), a Hamburg resident who teaches in the Springville-Griffith School District, won the Louis E. Yavner Teacher Award for his humanitarian efforts in and outside the classroom.
HAMBURG — Andrew Beiter’s dedication to educating students and fellow teachers in the social science application of human rights and genocide studies earned the eighth grade Springville-Griffith Institute social studies teacher the 2013 Louis E. Yavner Teacher Award.
Louis E. Yavner was a former member of the New York State Board of Regents. Before his death, he was an advocate to combat racial tensions and illiteracy.
The award was presented on June 24 at the Albany Board of Regents meeting by Commissioner John King, Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Chancellor Emeritus Robert Bennett.
Beiter said that participation in the Belfer Conference for Educators, a Holocaust Museum Workshop in Washington in 1995 developed his interest in human rights issues.
The educator has two main focuses for the summer of 2014: The Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies and The Educators’ Institute for Human Rights.
The former was founded by Beiter and is based on Holocaust studies, in which participants are exposed to historian research, survivor testimony and human rights experts. Field trips, discussions and interaction enlarge students’ worldviews, whether they are interested in genocide studies, international relations, politics or history.
The goal of the organization is to instill knowledge of human rights and genocide prevention, to create civil leaders and to spread that message through training and example.
“Genocide generally happens when leaders fear the loss of power, cleave to existing conventions and have competing interests with another group,” Beiter said, of why he thinks teaching the subject is so important.
Mark Crawford, former superintendent of the Hamburg School District, was instrumental in the early stages of The Summer Institute, including offering space in the Hamburg High School for the sessions. Lori Raybold, Jim Gang and Matt Meader were among the people who played roles in the success of The Summer Institute’s origin.
In its seventh year, this year, the Summer Institute will run for six days, from July 28-Aug. 2, at the Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Education Educational Campus at 355 Harlem Road in West Seneca. The title for this year’s event is, “Not on Our Watch: Standing up to Genocide.”
The Educators’ Institute for Human Rights was co-founded by Beiter, along with Mark Gudgel and is based in Rwanda. Beiter noted that he and Gudgel were impressed with how the people of Rwanda have overcome genocide in their country.
Beiter and Gudgel began EIHR as a tool to educate and support the teachers in Rwanda about human rights and genocide, in the hope of preventing future crimes against humanity. The New York State United Teachers, the American Federation of Teachers and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum all lend support to the endeavor. This year, 2014, is the fourth year of the conference.
The EIHR slogan is “Empowering Teachers to Repair the World.
“Placing positive interactions where a void exists that might be filled instead with an ill influence is a start to changing human rights understanding,” Beiter said, about the conference.
Beiter will be participating in the conference this year via Skype, as teachers gather at Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre from July 31-Aug. 2, with the goal of spreading truth about The Holocaust, genocide and other human rights offenses.
“We live in a time when Holocaust denial is on the fringes and Holocaust ignorance is widespread,” Beiter said, citing oversights in using Holocaust images in marketing and a fraction of teachers failing to properly teach the atrocity, through their own ignorance of the facts surrounding the issue, as well as their significance, in the present day.
The Springville teacher is also involved in humanitarian efforts in other areas, including supervising Students for Human Rights at Springville Middle School. This group works to raise awareness and funds to combat genocide.
In addition, he also contributed to and coordinates the teaching of Kerry Kennedy’s book, “Speak Truth to Power.”
Holocaust studies play an integral role in Beiter’s career. He is a regional education coordinator for the United States Holocaust Museum and serves as a board member for the Holocaust Resource Center of Buffalo, a teacher fellow for the Lowell Milken Center for Tolerance in Kansas, a board member at Buffalo for Africa and is co-director of the Education Department of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. Jackson was the Chief American Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Trials. The Center was founded to further his dedication to fairness, justice and decency.
On Sept. 10, 2013, Beiter participated in a Google Internet video conference featuring Secretary of State John Kerry. Chemical weapons, United Nations responsibility and possible military intervention in Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria were discussed.
Beiter is also the recipient of the 2008 Irena Sendler Award for Repairing the World, the 2009 Toby Ticktin Back Award for Holocaust Education and the 2009 New York State United Teachers Local Leadership Award.
The teacher said that, for him, it all comes down to human nature.
“As humans have and always will try to kill one another, the weapons employed in modern times are too efficient,” he said. “They must be countered with education and compassion. It is a privilege to reach so many people with the message of positivity. I am in the hope business.”
Beiter, who teaches at Springville-Griffith Institute in Springville, lives in Hamburg with his family.