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May 9, 2017
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JP O'Hare

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Yonkers Public School Teacher Receives 2017 Yavner Award

The Board of Regents today presented Yonkers Public School teacher Mitchell Polay with the Louis E. Yavner Teacher Award for educating others about the Holocaust and other violations of human rights. Mr. Polay teaches sixth grade at Paideia School 15 in Yonkers. The Yavner Teacher Award was established by the Board of Regents and funded by the late Regent Emeritus Louis E. Yavner of New York City, who served on the Board from 1975-1981. The award recognizes teachers who have made outstanding contributions to teaching about the Holocaust and other human rights violations.

“I am honored to present the 2017 Yavner Award to Mitchell Polay,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said. “For more than two decades, Mr. Polay has been making history meaningful to his students, particularly through his lessons about the Holocaust. Through his teaching, many young people understand how political leaders manipulate fear and anger and exploit the human need for belonging to carry out their atrocious crimes against others. These lessons stay with students well beyond their school years and help them to become adults engaged in the world around them.”

“Mr. Polay understands the power that history can have on our future and has helped his students grasp this critical concept too,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said. “His pedagogy about the Holocaust makes students aware of what those in power did to spread the fear and anger that resulted in horrific, unthinkable acts against innocent people. These lessons are about more than unspeakable crimes—they also illustrate for our children the importance of standing up and speaking out against injustice and intolerance.”

Mr. Polay has dedicated much of his professional life to Holocaust studies. He has traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and Australia to explore the questions of why and how genocide in general and the Holocaust, in particular, happened. Additionally, he has developed a credit-bearing course for teachers called “History of the Holocaust and the Lessons We Can Learn From It,” and has been teaching the course to colleagues for the past three years. Mr. Polay is the 30th teacher to receive the Yavner Award.

Mr. Polay’s outstanding work in Holocaust studies has been recognized by other organizations too. He received the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Fellowship Award and the Susan J. Goldberg Memorial Teachers Award for his dedication to human rights education. He was also chosen by the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program to study the Holocaust in Germany and Poland and to travel to Israel to promote genocide prevention.