Bishop O'Connell students spend a day with Founding Fathers

Students enrolled in the Advanced Placement U.S. History class at Bishop O’Connell High School may not have attended regularly scheduled classes Jan. 18, but that did not mean they missed out on a fun learning experience that day. The APUSH students had a day entirely dedicated to a special Founding Fathers symposium.

This event was organized by O’Connell’s APUSH teachers Erikka Durdle and James Shirey to give their students the opportunity to listen to a panel discussion, ask questions, and participate in small group engagements about one of three books they were assigned to read John Adams, by David McCullough; Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, by Jon Meacham; and Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow.

The day began as the students assembled in the auditorium to listen to three panelists share their opinions about the books and the three different yet influential figures in American history. Durdle moderated the panel, which included Shirey, as well as O’Connell’s Head of School Joseph Vorbach, who holds a doctorate in international relations and previously taught American foreign policy at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. The panel was rounded out by Steven Harris-Scott, a professor with the department of history and art history at George Mason University in Fairfax.

“Our opening panel was meant to set the stage for the rest of the day,” said Shirey. “Discussion ranged from the three Founding Fathers’ political legacies and personal lives to the ways in which their choices have been interpreted and judged by historians of different eras and schools of thought.”

This was followed by a student-led question-and-answer period with the panelists.

“The students asked questions about the lives of the three men and their roles as founding fathers, and political and philosophical theorists,” said Durdle. “Their questions demonstrated the complexity of these founders and the impressive depth to which the students had read their assigned books.”

The students broke into small groups in the afternoon to expand on what they had heard in the morning discussion and share their own thoughts with their peers.

“As I walked around to the small groups, the students were engaged and discussing pretty complex historical issues and ideas,” said Durdle. “I was very impressed, and I felt so unbelievably proud of our students.”

“We also were able to spend some time expressing not-so-popular issues concerning the Founding Fathers, for example, their stances on slavery, and the role of women in history,” said junior Thomas Dannenfelser.

Others, including juniors Zoe Forino and Corinne Reusch, agreed that the overall experience was a refreshing approach to learning about these men as individuals, and not just through their accomplishments.

Durdle considered this event a resounding success. “Our goal was for the students to get a rich and engaging learning experience,” she said. “We wanted them to see the thinking skills they acquire in our APUSH classes modeled by the panel members, and then apply them in each of the small group sessions. We also wanted them to have fun, and give them space to dig deeper into important historical issues and topics.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018