RI GenEd names Lisa Tvenstrup 2022 Genocide Educator of the Year

A surprised Lisa Tvenstrup shakes Esther Kalajian’s (RI GenEd) hand as she comes to the podium to accept the 2022 Genocide Educator of the Year award from Pauline Getzoyan (RI GenEd).

NORTH SCITUATE, R.I. – Hundreds of Ponaganset High School students were dressed for spirit in green and white while celebrating the accomplishments of their athletic teams in the school’s field house last Wednesday afternoon during a school-wide assembly. This was the joyful scene that greeted Pauline Getzoyan and Esther Kalajian of the Rhode Island branch of The Genocide Education Project (GenEd) as they entered to make the first-ever surprise presentation of the annual Genocide Educator of the Year award to social studies teacher Lisa Tvenstrup.

On hand for the presentation were the recipient’s husband Scott, Hrag Arakelian of the Armenian Cultural Association of RI (ACA-RI), Ken Kalajian of the Armenian Martyrs’ Memorial Committee of RI (AMMC-RI) and Steve Elmasian of the Armenian National Committee of RI (ANC-RI), along with numerous colleagues and all those students now enthusiastically celebrating Tvenstrup’s accomplishment. The last two years resulted in a pause in these awards, and Getzoyan and Kalajian expressed delight to be in person to make the 2022 presentation.

Award recipient Lisa Tvenstrup offers heartfelt thanks, both for the recognition and for her supportive colleagues and students.

Tvenstrup received an unprecedented five nominations from colleagues spanning administration, mathematics, literacy studies, social studies and science. She is currently in her 37th year of teaching, all of it at Ponaganset High School where she began her career at just 22 years old. Her focus of study at the time was East Asian studies, specifically China and Japan, which she continues to teach today. As time went on, Tvenstrup developed and wrote a course on 20th century world history during which she would teach about the Armenian Genocide while covering World War I and the Holocaust during World War II. “I began to feel that there was so much more I could cover, and I wanted to focus on genocide,” she told the Weekly. Tvenstrup wanted to make the course a stand-alone, semester-long elective, so she wrote and developed the curriculum about four years ago.

In 2016, a law was passed in Rhode Island requiring that this subject matter be taught in schools. Based on the information provided about Tvenstrup and her teaching, she has clearly been ahead of the curve.

Tvenstrup’s elective for juniors and seniors is called “Genocide: Worse than War.” According to the course description, its purpose is to introduce, examine and analyze genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries in order to gain an understanding of the causes and effects of genocide. The ultimate goal is for students to trace the various stages of genocide and to comprehend the link between acts of hatred and prejudice and mass murder. The course encourages tolerance, acceptance and appreciation for cultural differences and the important contributions they have to offer to humanity.

Due to the nature of the study of genocide, Tvenstrup requires that parents sign off permission for their students to participate in the class. “It’s not going to be watered down,” she explained. Tvenstrup has worked for decades to develop this course to the point where her students develop a deep understanding of the human suffering caused by genocide, as well as the tools to take action to help alleviate that suffering.

Through oral histories and the stages of genocide, Tvenstrup creates a connection for her students between the horrors of the past and continuing injustices today. The course begins with an in-depth overview of genocide, its psychology, the various stages of genocide, the origin of the term and its current relevance. This is followed by the study of the Armenian Genocide, the Holocaust, Cambodia and Rwanda.

Following are just a few of the glowing comments submitted by her colleagues regarding Tvenstrup’s exemplary work:

“Her daily lessons encourage tolerance, acceptance and appreciation for cultural differences and spell out how individual cultures add to the richness of our collective history. On any given day, you can walk up and down the hallways and your eyes will fall upon posters that tell the stories of individuals who endured the Armenian Genocide, escaped extermination at Treblinka, evaded the cane knives in Rwanda, and lay silent in the killing fields of Cambodia from the posters created by students.”

And about those posters: “They break down the wall of her room and force the passerby to face the harsh history as well as the language and conditions that can result in contemporary genocide.”

“Ms. Tvenstrup’s ability to reach students’ hearts and minds when teaching about genocide has been remarkable. She ensures students of all ability levels can access the material.”

“The curriculum is uncomfortable at times, but Ms. Tvenstrup’s ability to convey the material in a sensitive and thoughtful way enables students to make connections and draw conclusions that have long lasting effects. Her content instruction coupled with her ability to allow students to make connections, past, present, and the future, is what really defines the importance of this course. This is also what makes Ms. Tvenstrup stand out as an educator who tackles this important topic plaguing global society over generations.”

Cheers cautiously erupted as Tvenstrup was introduced to receive the award, which includes a $500 stipend funded by the ACA-RI and AMMC-RI to be used at her discretion in the classroom. She explained that some of her students were unsure if it was appropriate to cheer given that the award was for teaching the difficult and serious subject of genocide, a thought process she was pleased they employed in gauging their responses.

“It was an honor to witness the award presentation for Ms. Tvenstrup, who has raised awareness of the Armenian Genocide to hundreds of students and to experience the ceremony in a gymnasium full of enthusiastic high school students,” said Arakelian, who invited the teacher to attend this week’s RI screening of the film “Songs of Solomon,” where she was applauded for her work and award in front of the packed Avon Cinema in Providence.

“As the grandchild of an Armenian Genocide survivor, as well as victims of the Genocide, inclusion of this history is critical, as the continued denial of the crime by the government of Turkey creates a continuum of genocidal actions and racism,” said Getzoyan. She concluded by expressing admiration and appreciation for the outstanding work Tvenstrup continues to do as she tackles genocide education at Ponaganset High School.

RI’s 2022 Genocide Educator of the Year Lisa Tvenstrup with (left to right) Foster Glocester Regional School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Renee Palazzo, Pauline Getzoyan, Ponaganset High School Interim Principal Amanda Grundel, Esther Kalajian and Hrag Arakelian of the ACA-RI.


  1. Congratulations to Lisa Tvenstrup and to Pauline and Esther for their years of service on this amazing project.

  2. This project is so important to bring awareness to the historical events that happened to the Armenians in the Ottoman era in Turkey. A Big “Thank You” to Lisa Tvenstrup and to the committee that organized this amazing project. Kudos to you all.

  3. Congratulations to Teacher Lisa Twenstrup on her well-deserved recognition/award and for all the tireless work of Lisa and Pauline and Esther bringing the recognition of genocide to the youth beginning with the 1915 -1923 Armenian Genocide.

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