In 2022, Archdiocese of Denver Catholic schools switched from teaching the discipline of social studies in our schools to teaching the discipline of history. Why? History teaches our students the story of humankind, the way in which God intervened to save us from the human condition. Learning history forms students’ hearts to receive story well and helps to form a moral imagination. And, most importantly, history reveals to our students the Incarnation as the high point of human history. God Himself entered history in the fullness of time, becoming a human person. The Catholic faith depends upon history! The Catholic school, then, cannot educate properly without dependence on the story of history.
Understanding history also greatly impacts the effectiveness of education itself. As professor and theorist E.D. Hirsch has argued in his promotion of cultural literacy, “If we want our children to be broadly competent readers [and thinkers] they must have a rich, broad store of background knowledge to call upon.” Knowledge of history and increased class time focused on learning history has been proven to increase student reading ability.
Teaching history well is a mission-critical element of the Catholic school, and its success depends on teachers deeply committed to understanding salvation history and human history well. Because of the change in disciplines, our Archdiocese of Denver Catholic school teachers undertook tremendous amounts of learning and work to plan history well.
The Office of Catholic Schools wanted to honor those efforts by giving Excellence in Teaching History and Excellence in Planning History awards. Teachers were nominated by their principals and other administrators. Through a generous grant provided by the Considine Family Foundation, the Office of Catholic Schools was thrilled to award eight teachers with the Excellence in Teaching History, and five teachers with the Excellence in Planning History award. Each teacher was surprised at their school with a special award ceremony, certificate, and a cash prize of $750. Fourteen teachers also received Honorable Mention.
Kathi Gregg, a third grade teacher at Shrine of St. Anne Catholic School, won an award and exemplifies understanding the mission of teaching history well. Her principal, Theresa Donahue, nominated her, saying, “The reason I am nominating Kathi Gregg for this history award is based off of a discussion she and I had one day in her classroom, as well as her planning and instruction. I witnessed her ‘lightbulb’ moment, when she fully realized we are truly on mission, and how examining history from a Catholic worldview is so needed in the times in which we are living. The focus of the lesson I was going to observe was her introduction to Christendom and it was through her preparation for the lesson that she came to the realization of why we had to do this [curriculum]. She was on fire in that moment as we were discussing her lesson…” A thorough study of Christendom in both 3rd and 7th grade forms our students in the ways in which Christianity organized medieval culture after the fall of Rome. Our students today need examples of how to live the Christian life well.
These teachers serve as leaders for other teachers in the archdiocese. As Steve Vaughan, principal of St. Therese Catholic Classical School, wrote about fifth grade teacher, Eryn Hall, “…her ability to see and plan out a thorough and accurate retelling of many historical eras contributed greatly to the work now being done throughout the archdiocese.” Through the gift of these teachers’ pursuit of the truth and beauty of history, many more teachers in the archdiocese have an exemplar of how to teach history well.
The teacher is often the most important aspect of the curriculum, modeling the joy and wonder of learning. “I had FUN,” remarked first-grade teacher at Most Precious Blood Catholic School, Cathy Schilling, honorable mention winner. When reflecting on her opening lesson at the start of the school year, she introduced her students to their yearlong focus on the ancient Greeks. Cathy brought Greek history to life by teaching in a white toga-like dress with a gold laurel-wreath head band. She introduced herself as “Miss Clea” — standing in for Mrs. Schilling — to tell them a little bit about her home in Greece. Students were, of course, enthralled with the new information and novel presentation. Mrs. Schilling has also woven all the relevant history teaching expectations of our Archdiocesan curriculum into her plans almost seamlessly, particularly as she explains to the children how this culture was then used to spread the Gospel through St. Paul’s work. Her students are being exposed to the notion that long before Christ, the groundwork was being laid in the Greek culture to be rich soil for the flourishing of the work of the first Apostles, sharing the Good News of Christ the Logos.
Congratulations to all of our teachers who have worked so hard to bring history to life for our students.
Our Excellence in Teaching History winners are:
Sue McPeek – 3rd Grade, St. Therese Catholic Classical
Mercedes Baeverstad – Kindergarten, St. John the Baptist
Paul Buchholz – Middle School, St. Pius X
Danielle Charron – Kindergarten, Blessed Miguel Pro
Kelly Harvey – 2nd grade, Blessed Sacrament
Eric McRoberts – 5th grade, St. Pius X
Sr. Marie Faustina – 2nd grade, St. Clare of Assisi
Kathi Gregg – 3rd grade, Shrine of St. Anne
Our Excellence in Planning History winners are:
Melissa Logan – 4th grade, Nativity Faith & Reason
Claudia Kapusinksi – Middle School, Our Lady of Lourdes – North
Sydney Lupica – 3rd grade, Frassati Catholic Academy
Olivia Chambers – 4th grade, St. Pius X
Cecilia Berry – Kindergarten, Our Lady of Lourdes- South
Mary O’Connor – Bl. Miguel Pro Catholic Academy
Kitty Comeaux – St. John the Baptist
Morgan McGinn – Our Lady of Lourdes South
Heidi Staff – Sacred Heart of Jesus
Julia Hill – Sacred Heart of Jesus
Lori Frank – St. Mary – Greeley
Kathy Calo – Frassati Catholic Academy
Mary Catherine Florence – Our Lady of Lourdes North
Eryn Hall – St. Therese Catholic Classical School
Marianna Brown – St. Vincent de Paul
Rachel Siurek – Sacred Heart of Jesus
John Kiaha – Shrine of St. Anne
Kathleen Dillon – St. John the Evangelist
Cathy Schilling – Most Precious Blood