ARHS Social Studies Dept on accomplishments

Above: Algonquin’s Senior class voted the Social Studies as the “Best Dept”. In April, the Regional School Committee learned what they’ve been up to this year. (image from presentation)

During the Regional School Committee’s April meeting, Algonquin History Department Director Brittany Burns took main stage, discussing past accomplishments of the department and eyeing future developments.

Genocide Education Bill
In 2021, the Massachusetts State House passed a bill outlining and requiring genocide education. Algonquin has been at the forefront of its implementation, focusing on educating not only students, but also department members through professional development. Currently, all 15 members of the social studies department are trained on the ten stages of genocide, as well as the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s approach to teaching genocide. Teachers at Trottier are also working on implementing genocide education, with students being introduced to the ten stages in sixth grade, with connections to the stages being made during the duration of their time in middle school.

Earlier this month, the junior class had a presentation by Yasmina Cesic, a survivor of the Bosnian Genocide. Cesic spoke for the class of 2024 last year, and Burns is working to ensure a genocide survivor speaks to ARHS yearly.

Answering a question about the school’s leadership role on the issue, Burns said that she has already presented about their program to teachers at other schools and will be consulting with a couple more this summer. Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Reinhorn said that Burns has also been conducting Professional Development at the district’s middle schools.

National Social Studies Honor Society
A new introduction to Algonquin’s extracurricular offerings, National Social Studies Honor Society (NSSHS) is a club that was, according to Burns, “founded to encourage civic service” . NSSHS was founded in January after junior Sophie Kopstien talked to history department members and expressed the need for such a club.

35 students applied for the honor society, and 22 were selected and inducted on March 21*. Members have a ten hour “social science” service requirement, aimed to better the surrounding communities. They have already hosted a Ninth Grade Writing Night to aid ninth graders with their inaugural high school history research papers and a night to provide help to both Trottier and Melican eighth graders working on their Civic Action Projects. Additionally, the group has assisted with a voter registration drive, organized by senior Cass Melo.* Working with younger students is what the group expects to do in the future, and Burns hopes to exemplify a “cross-district connection.”

Real-World Connections
With most COVID-era restrictions now lifted, field trips are now back in full swing. Three groups took trips into Boston, seeing a variety of exhibits and experiences. Burns’ Holocaust and Human Behavior class visited the traveling Auschwitz museum, and the Criminal Justice classes toured the Moakley courthouse. Two students attended the State House’s Student Government Day, where they assumed the roles of state legislators in a mock hearing*. In preparation for AP exams, students in the AP Human Geography class took to the Ecotarium for a scavenger hunt.

AP Classes
For the 2024-2024 school year, the history department has the highest ever AP enrollment. Six years ago, in an innovative step, the department removed grade prerequisites. According to Burns, these courses are now flourishing despite the change, with  “scores continu[ing] to be far higher than the state and national averages.”

Dealing with Controversial Issues
Burns noted, “it’s a tough time in some ways to be a Social Studies teacher, given the “microscope” on issues around some of the topics they cover. She commended the team of teachers as knowledgeable and empathetic. She said they aren’t afraid to tackle the controversial topics that you can’t talk about at Thanksgiving. But they try to focus on helping students understand how to find valid information.

Looking Forward
Burns shared that all 15 of their teachers are voluntarily working towards being trained on “Universal Design for Learning” by fall 2025. (The teaching approach is meant to work with all learners, “based on scientific insights into how humans learn”.) They have been to redesign the core curriculum to be “as accessible as possible” and integrate new tools and technologies.

The department plans to expand its Civics experiences. Through a partnership with other NSBORO schools. Northborough’s Peasely Elementary School fifth graders work with ARHS’ student government or students in AP Government classes. With help from the NSSHS, they hope to expand that to include other NSBORO Schools.

*[Editor’s Note: This story was written by Maggie Fitzgerald with edits from Beth Melo. Full Disclosures — Maggie is a member of NSSHS and was one of the students to attend Student Government Day, and Beth Melo is Cass Melo’s mother.]

Updated (5/28/24 9:10 am): Corrected the final paragraph.

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