Inspired to understand: WSHS teacher selected for fellowship program in Armenia

Inspired to understand: WSHS teacher selected for fellowship program in Armenia
People stand in front of a monument

Sarah Dixen wanted an immersive experience. 

Her interest in the Armenian Genocide took root with the 100th anniversary in 2015. At the time, she admitted, she knew little about it but started to educate herself through books, podcasts and articles. She incorporated it into her lessons as a history and social studies teacher at Winona Senior High School. 

But she wanted more. She needed to learn from experts in the field. She needed to understand how the Amernian Genocide impacted the course of world history over the next century and continues to shape the worldview of so many today.

Dixen was one of 15 secondary teachers nationwide selected to participate in the GenEd Teacher Fellowship Program. As part of the program, Dixen traveled to Armenia for 10 days to take part in a unique, memorable and transformative professional development opportunity. 

“The experience was amazing,” Dixen said. “I learned from professors and historians, and I  experienced the rich and vibrant Armenian culture. The time to talk to Armenians and Armenian-Americans was so valuable to start to understand the impact of their history on their worldview.”

Dixen became interested in the Armenian Genocide through teaching AP World History. The Armenian Genocide happened during World War I. An estimated 1.5 million Armenians — more than half of the Armenian population living in what was a protected area of the Ottoman Empire — were killed on the orders of Turkish leaders. 

“I realized I knew very little about this genocide before teaching world history, and that was not uncommon,” Dixen said. “I educated myself and wanted to understand more about how and why this happened.”

That led Dixen to apply for the GenEd Teacher Fellowship Program, which is sponsored by the Genocide Education Project, a nonprofit organization assisting educators in teaching about human rights and genocide, particularly the Armenian Genocide, as the predecessor of the pattern of genocides that followed.

While in Armenia, Dixen and her fellow educators spent time at the Armenian Genocide Museum and Institute, combing through primary source documents, studying artifacts and absorbing the in-depth museum exhibit. They also spent time going on excursions around the city and surrounding areas to deepen their understanding.

Dixen didn’t stop there. 

“Afterwards, I went on to travel in Georgia,” she said. “I went to museums and explored the region around the capital. I was able to learn about the post-Soviet Union history of this region and it gave me a much broader understanding of the current global politics of the area.” 

The second phase of the fellowship program requires that Dixen lead professional development activities for other educators in the region under the supervision of The Genocide Education Project. 

WSHS history students will also benefit from this experience for years to come.

“I will teach more about the Armenian Genocide, not only in the context of World War I, but also how the pattern of genocide shows up over and over in modern world history,” Dixen said. “I believe it is very important for our students to understand the steps that lead to genocide and to recognize this is something that has occurred numerous times.”