A Watertown High School English teacher will travel to Armenia this summer as part of a program sponsored by The Genocide Education Project.
Jess DePamphilis was chosen as one of 17 secondary level teachers from 14 states chosen to be GenEd Teacher Fellows. The group will spend 10 days in Armenia in July to take part in a professional development program based at the Armenian Genocide Museum and Institute.
While in Armenia the group will be based in Yerevan, the capital city. DePamphilis will also get exposed to the culture and history of the country.
“The days are split, so every morning we will be working and collaborating, doing workshops on how to teach about genocide,” DePamphilis said. “In the afternoons, we go on trips to many of the historical and cultural sites relevant to what we are teaching.”
DePamphilis grew up in Watertown and graduated from WHS in 2007. After working for two years in other districts she decided to return to Watertown as an English teacher.
The Armenian Genocide is already part of her lessons. Each year, the students in her 10th grade English class read Forgotten Fire, a book based on the true story of a boy’s experience in the Armenian Genocide, written by Adam Bagdasarian.
Over the years, DePamphilis has looked for other ways to improve her lessons on the Armenian Genocide, including working with the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown. She hopes to come back from her trip with knowledge that will enrich her lessons.
“I will learn more on the Genocide so I can more effectively teach that book,” she said.
One of the requirements of being a GenEd Teacher Fellow is that DePamphilis will share what she learned on the trip with other educators in the district.
“I love working with colleagues and this will be a wonderful opportunity to bring back what I learned,” DePamphilis said. “Even though I am the only one (from Watertown) traveling to Armenia, hopefully what I bring back will trickle back into other subjects and classrooms.”
With a large Armenian population in Watertown the history of the Armenians is part of multiple classes, as is the subject of genocide, DePamphilis said.
“Genocide and the Armenian Genocide comes up in the history curriculum, and then every teacher in the English Department teaches Forgotten Fire,” DePamphilis said. “There is a pretty large population of educators in the building who relate to the subject in some context.”
She almost missed her opportunity to apply for the program.
“I happened to see an email. I almost deleted it. I thought it was one of the routine emails,” she said. “When I looked closer I saw it was advertising the program I had to apply, even if it was a long shot.”
Along with the unique opportunity, DePamphilis said the program is unusual for another reason.
“The trip is all paid for, which is really an unbelievable opportunity for an educator,” she said. “Because there are definitely an abundance of cool opportunities out there for educators, but I honestly can’t think of another international program that pays for you, short of a Fulbright (Scholarship).”