First Amendment Schools
In 2005 the Thaddeus Stevens School joined the national network of First Amendment Schools. The network schools are “designed to transform how schools teach and practice the rights and responsibilities of citizenship that frame civic life in our democracy.” Their vision that the “five freedoms protected by the First Amendment are a cornerstone of American democracy and essential for citizenship in a diverse society” dovetails with the Thaddeus Stevens School mission to prepare students who fulfill their “civic duties; embrace human diversity; and thrive in a complex world.” The following section describes the ways in which that commitment is visible at the Thaddeus Stevens School.
Curricular: the four grades study the ideas and events that have influenced and shaped contemporary ideas of self-governance. The fifth and sixth grades look at early world civilizations and the pre-Columbian Americas. Seventh grade focuses on early America, the creation of the Constitution, and the use of the Constitution to build American democracy. Eighth grade examines comparative cultures and governments.
Classroom: seminar-style classes promote the critical, analytical thinking that is incumbent upon citizens of a democratic system. Teachers provoke thoughtful responses by emphasizing the tensions inherent in a diverse society, layering the discussion with opposing viewpoints and encouraging alternative interpretations of ideas.
Methodology: students respond to a variety of texts and primary documents through discussion and extensive writing. Students practice what Mike Schmoker calls “argumentative literacy,” working toward developing a point of view that incorporates their values, knowledge, and experiences.
The following activities are designed to help students develop their understandings:
- Unscripted mock trial based on a real case;
- Legislative simulations;
- Model U.N.
- International treaty-making simulations;
- Candlelight Vigil, Dartmouth College, to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.
- African American Read-In to celebrate African American authors.;
- Dialogue on Freedom.
School culture: the School accepts that in any human interaction conflicts will arise. Acknowledging those conflicts and working together to resolve them develops accountability in both teachers and students. The School meets daily to discuss the events of the day and to address any issues that have developed through the course of student interaction. Teachers work to ensure that all voices are heard and students participate in the resolution of any problems. The School mission, the idea of responsibility necessary to maintain democratic ideals, and the importance of respect for self and others are all used to reestablish the intellectual and emotional safety that promotes critical thinking.
The following are examples of broad-based decision-making:
- Music appreciation course: students designed a course that allowed each student to investigate a specific genre of music to then present to the entire school;
- Attire guidelines for handbook: student committee worked with faculty and board;
- Student committee reconvenes upon discrepancies or disagreements with the guidelines.
Community Service: students participate in a variety of community service activities.
The following are examples of projects and activities:
- Annual: Walk for the Northeast Kingdom Youth Shelter; host Martin Luther King Candlelight Vigil; Simple Gifts (faculty and students staff craft tables that provide materials for community children to make their own Christmas gifts); host Memorial Day Ceremony for the town of Peacham; participate in Veterans Day activities
- Election years: “Get out the Vote”; “Meet the Candidates” night
- Disaster Relief: Clean up of local farm after a fire; Pet Food Drive
- Time Sensitive: Volunteering for Special; painting kindergarten room at local church
Board of Trustees: the Board consists of parents, members of the community, and teachers from neighboring schools. The School hopes to increase board membership to alums as that population grows.