Cleveland High School English Teacher Athena Davis Honored At Cleveland City Council Meeting

Thursday, May 29, 2014 - by Hollie Webb
- photo by Hollie Webb

“She really goes above and beyond.”

“What she does is absolutely amazing.” 

“She’s interested in every student that she has.”

“Anytime you are feeling down or if you’re having a bad day, she notices automatically and she’ll lift you up. She goes out of her way to make you feel loved.” 

Those were some of the Cleveland High School student testimonials about English teacher Athena Davis that were heard in a video clip taken from “Live With Kathy and Michael.” The clip was shown Tuesday during the Cleveland City Council meeting just before Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland named Davis an ambassador of the city of Cleveland.

Cleveland High School is part of Ms. Davis’ identity. She graduated from there in 1996 and her mother, Melody (Silver) Buckner, was part of the first graduating class of the high school in 1967. She says she loved her high school experience and teaching is the way she found to stay in high school forever. 

For finishing in the top five, the TV show gave 30 Intel powered HP X360 touch-screen computers to the school and she received an eight-day, seven-night trip to Israel.

Mayor Rowland congratulated Ms. Davis for bringing honor to the city of Cleveland and Cleveland High School. “Your passion to spread the word of the Holocaust is amazing. Over the Memorial Day weekend, we saw a lot of stories of the Holocaust and it really brings tears to your eyes. You have been an ambassador to Cleveland, just as the runners to Boston were ambassadors.” 

“Ambassador Athena Davis,” Mayor Rowland read from the citation. “You have been recognized as a professional educator who has taken her ‘City With Spirit’ to worldwide acclaim as a 2014 nominee for Top Teacher on the ABC-TV Network.

“Athena’s story of dedication to her profession, her students and her community are recognized by the mayor and city council who hereby bestow an official city ambassadorship, recognizing her important role as a representative of this great city and the Cleveland City School system.” 

Ms. Davis’ story of dedication and professionalism continued Wednesday as she drove to Nashville to work on a project of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission. The project goal, began in the early 2000s, was to interview all living Holocaust survivors residing in Tennessee. Some of the survivors of that tragedy have since succumbed to time.

Ms. Davis’ work with the commission began in 2007 when the commission accepted her application as a teacher fellow. That first year, each of the fellows took on a project. 

“My project became my class. I wrote the curriculum for my Holocaust history class. I don’t know if the program was supposed to last a year, but it has lasted ever since,” she said.

Recently, the commission contacted some of the fellows to create a website with curriculum, writing prompts based on the interviews. The team began its work in August and does not expect to complete its task until this coming August. 

“There are four batches, and we are just starting on our second batch, so we are not quite halfway through,” she said.

An act of the state Legislature created the Tennessee Holocaust Commission in 1984. The governor appoints its 12 members. In 1996, new legislation recreated the Commission to recognize its primary role as education and to create a parallel not-for profit body. 

The commission provides a variety of educational services and opportunities. It creates and implements resources, workshops, conferences, exhibits, learning and in-service seminars as well as publications for the educational and general communities. It has facilitated primary educator learning opportunities for study in Washington, D.C., and Europe. Each year, the commission supports “Days of Remembrance” across the state, including an observance on the Capitol grounds.

It is one of the oldest and most recognized Commissions in the United States. Its purpose is to educate and commemorate about the Holocaust. 

Its overarching mission is to educate Tennesseans about the history of the Holocaust, seeking to remind citizens that prejudice, hatred, and violence, as manifested in the Holocaust and other genocides, leads to the destruction of a humane society.

The 13-year veteran of classroom teaching said the Holocaust has always interested her, but she never saw herself developing the passion that now guides her. Ms. Davis’ interest was piqued while preparing a unit for student teaching in the eighth grade. She developed her unit on “Night” the first book of a trilogy authored by Elie Wiesel. 

“I delved into it some and became very interested in it. When I got my first job, I taught sophomores and “Night” and in Cleveland, it was taught to sophomores, so I developed a pretty in-depth two-week Holocaust unit and it kind of just evolved.

“I think one thing that pulled me to it educationally is I saw, and I see, in the Holocaust two things. One, I saw how my kids were drawn into this subject. Kids who hadn’t really been interested in anything we’ve done were pulled in,” she said. “What I see in the Holocaust is — There is not anything else that I’ve seen in English education that you can use for such valuable life lessons.” 

The subject offers teachers an opportunity use an historical event to teach about it through literature, “and to show them this is not just 1940s Europe. You can take it down to its basic level of someone dropping books in the hall. Do you stop and pick them up?” In this day of school violence and shootings, “just being kind to people, you really and truly don’t know what crisis you are averting. I think the Holocaust is really important to remember, memorialize and learn about, but I think you can take it (life lessons) so much further and to me that’s what it is all about.”

- Photo2 by Hollie Webb

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