Gretchen Bauer Abernathy has been named the Distinguished Educator of 2015 by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust. The award recognizes outstanding educators whose work ensures that future generations are prepared to become engaged citizens, make good choices and take responsibility for their own actions by connecting students to the history and lessons of the Holocaust. A Distinguished Educator of the Year award is presented annually to a full-time Georgia educator of grades 5-12.
Gretchen Abernathy is an 8th grade Language Arts educator at Dalton Middle School in Dalton, Georgia, where she has been teaching for nineteen years. Prior to her tenure in Dalton, she taught six years of high school English and two years of middle school Language Arts in New Jersey.
Mrs. Abernathy was born and raised in New Jersey but has lived with her husband in his hometown of Dalton for almost 20 years. They have one daughter and three sons.
Mrs. Abernathy knew she wanted to be a teacher when she was a young girl. Specifically, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of all her students. In teaching her students the lessons of the Holocaust, it is her goal to encourage them to make ethical decisions and not be bystanders.
In addition to her students placing in the Commission’s annual Creative Arts Student Contest, Mrs. Abernathy invited Holocaust survivor Alla Czerkasij to speak to 8th grade students at Dalton Middle School in May 2014.
Aside from lessons and activities in the classroom, Mrs. Abernathy is an active member of her community. She is a two-time host family volunteer for the Georgia Rotary Student Program.
Mrs. Abernathy’s application for this award included a letter of support from a former student, State Representative Bruce Broadrick, who commented, “We are very fortunate to have the talent and dedication of Gretchen Abernathy in our school system. She is an inspiration and mentor to others and will accept only the best from her students.”
In addition to teaching, Mrs. Abernathy enjoys reading, cooking, walking, watching SEC pro-football, and spending time at the beach.
When asked why Holocaust education is important, Mrs. Abernathy quoted Holocaust survivor Henry Friedman: “First and foremost, teaching the Holocaust is important to ensure that future generations will never forget the atrocities resulting in the annihilation of more than six million Jews, the deaths of more than twelve million people in total. It is also important to use the lessons of the Holocaust to teach tolerance, which opens doors to lessons on many related themes such as hatred, racism, prejudice, injustice, bullying, and most importantly, the consequences of being indifferent. Students must learn that “We are all different; because of that, each of us has something different and special to offer and each and every one of us can make a difference by not being indifferent.”