More than 300 people attended the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL’s) 2015 Walter Kase Teacher Excellence Awards luncheon, which honored three Region IV educators for their outstanding efforts to create a school atmosphere that promotes respect for and understanding of diversity. The event also remembered its namesake, beloved speaker and Houston Holocaust survivor Walter Kase, who passed away earlier this year.
ADL named the luncheon after Walter because of his commitment to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to young people. A survivor of five camps, he had a unique way of connecting with students when he told his story. He told them he was their age when he lived through the horrors of the Holocaust. He stressed the importance of love and respect.
This year’s luncheon included a special tribute to Walter, which began with his grandson, Daniel Dozark playing a Chopin piano piece, and continued with the Shlenker School Singers performing “For Good” from the musical, Wicked.
Honorees included music and choir teacher Roderick Blake from Burnet ECU-Elementary School in the Galveston Independent School District, professional educator Stephanie Haechten of the Monarch School and counselor Steven Schlabach from Westchester Academy for International Studies in the Spring Branch Independent School District .
Blake, who received the Award from his student Mia Roan, introduced ADL’s No Place for Hate® initiative on the Burnet Elementary campus four years ago and continues to oversee its implementation. After receiving the Award, he spoke of the importance of Walter’s message and continuing it through No Place for Hate®. He said, “I am constantly telling my students, do what is right, even when no one is watching.”
Haechten, who teaches at a school that serves boys with neurological differences, accepted the Award from her student Alex Schmidt, and spoke about the meaning of being a special education teacher. She told the crowd special educators “step toward the uncomfortable..stand up for the unconventional..and stay through the unpredictable,” and added, “all educators implementing the No Place for Hate® curriculum are, at their core, special educators.”
Student Cindy Vargas presented the Award to Schlabach who coordinates No Place for Hate® at his school. In his acceptance speech, he noted the diversity of his school and the importance of No Place for Hate® there, as well as of Walter and his message. “He could have easily decided to forget the unimaginable things that happened to him,” Schlabach said, “but instead shared those painful events to inspire us to do better in the way we treat each other.”
ADL Regional Board Chair Ian Scharfman, Education Committee Chair Emily Deakins, and Regional Director Martin Cominsky also spoke.