SHS students, teacher attend national academies in Washington, DC

Spearfish High School teacher Pat Gainey and students Katie O’Shea and Charles Waugh had a chance to meet U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., during their time at the Presidential Academy on American History and Civics for teachers and the Congressional Academy for students recently in Washington, D.C. Courtesy photo

SPEARFISH — A trio from Spearfish High School returned Saturday after two weeks of time in the nation’s capital attending national workshops on American history and civics.

“I think it’s gone extremely well,” said social studies teacher Pat Gainey, who was selected to participated in the Presidential Academy on American History and Civics for teachers, along with seniors Katie O’Shea and Charles Waugh, who participated in the Congressional Academy for students.

One teacher and two students from every state are chosen to attend the annual conference at Goucher College in Baltimore for two weeks, July 7-20. All expenses are paid, and participants receive stipends, and in addition, four field studies are planned for the conference, including visits to Mount Vernon, Fort McHenry, Gettysburg, and locations in Washington, D.C.

According to the program’s website, the academies “offer workshops for both veteran and new teachers of American history and civics to strengthen their knowledge and preparation for teaching these subjects. The program also supports establishment of Congressional Academies for Students of American History and Civics for high school students to develop a broader and deeper understanding of these subjects.”

It adds that the programs support projects to raise student achievement in American history and civics by improving teachers’ and students’ knowledge, understanding, and engagement with these subjects through intensive workshops with scholars, master teachers, and curriculum experts. 

The academies “help teachers develop further expertise in the content areas of American history and civics, teaching strategies, use of technologies, and other essential elements of teaching to rigorous college- and career-ready standards,” the website describes. “Congressional Academies are intended to broaden and deepen students’ interest in and understanding of American history and civics through the use of content-rich, engaging learning resources and strategies.”

The group also spent a day at Capitol Hill, and they also took in a Baltimore Orioles baseball game at Camden Yards.

“I think they’re having a great time,” Gainey said Friday, the group’s final day in Washington, D.C., before beginning their travels home Saturday.

It was the first time Gainey had participated in the program, and he called it a very worthwhile experience. The two academies provided separate scholarship for the students and teachers, with various professors leading workshops. On Friday, the students heard from David Hudson of the First Amendment Center, who has done a lot of work with the “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution” program over the years. Spearfish High School participates in the We the People program and has won the state competition, representing South Dakota at the national level, 20 times.  

“I know that the kids are enjoying the scholarship portion,” Gainey said.

The students also heard from Dr. Joseph Stewart, a professor of political science at Clemson University, who happened to be one of the judges at the national We the People competition in April who judged the Spearfish High School Class of 2019 team. 

“You see a lot of familiar faces. Civic education, as it turns out, is a close-knit community,” Gainey said.

The group also had a chance to meet one of the Congressional delegation from South Dakota, “on the fly.” Because they didn’t know the schedule prior to their arrival in the capital, they hadn’t set up any formal meetings with the South Dakota members of Congress, but Gainey did want to show the students where the members’ offices were located, and when walking to the building in which U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., is located, they were able to meet the congressman.

Gainey described that Johnson was very gracious and walked with the Spearfish students and teacher over to the Capitol on his way to vote.

“He was real personable,” Gainey said, describing that Johnson asked the students about their upcoming year and post-high school plans and posed for a photo with the group on the steps of the Capitol.

“It’s been a great experience,” Gainey said of the national conference.

“With the current emphasis on civics in South Dakota and the United States, opportunities like this are vital in creating our next generation of leaders,” Spearfish High School Principal Steve Morford said Tuesday. “Katie and Charles are wonderful examples of the type of future leaders that can and will shape our society in years to come. Mr. Gainey’s leadership in providing opportunities for our students is second to none. Without his willingness to take his own time for the betterment of his students, trips like this don’t’ happen. I am anxious to visit with all three and have each share with our student body and staff.”

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