Meet Thomas Fullbright
Topeka, Kansas • Hope Street Academy
Thomas Fulbright has been teaching social studies at Hope Street Academy in Topeka, Kansas since 2008. He earned both of his degrees in social studies education from the University of Kansas, where he met his wife, with whom he has three wonderful daughters.
In addition to his regular teaching duties, Thomas continuously tries to develop as a professional and help other teachers do the same. He does this in part by attending programs such as those run by BRI and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He also helps other teachers grow through his work on USD 501’s social studies curriculum and assessment team, serving as the current Kansas Council for the Social Studies President, and contributing lesson plans to the Bill of Rights Institute, including this recent eLesson on the history of U.S. Trade policy.
Thomas is proud of being selected as the 2018 Kansas History Teacher of the year by Gilder Lehrman. However, he is most proud of having two of his history students help him deliver a presentation on his pedagogy during the 2018 Kansas Civic Advocacy Conference.
And his biggest challenge? Besides trying to convince students that what he is trying to teach them is more important than what is on their smartphones, it’s “the overarching goal,” Thomas says, “of trying to prepare students to become citizens who can think critically, act with compassion, and ultimately take informed action.”
Meet Tracey Downey
Davenport, Florida • Ridge Community High School
Tracey Downey has been a teacher for the past 14 years and loves being involved at her school. She taught elementary school for her first 5 years before moving on to high school. However, her day does not stop when classes are over. “I am always on the go with a million things going on simply because…my day never stops at the bell. I am also the Varsity Cheer Coach and the Special Olympics Cheer Coach,” states Tracey. She also has three children at home, which requires even more of a time commitment. “My life is crazy and very full but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she exclaims.
Tracey’s favorite era to teach is the WWII-Cold War Era. She is able to reference the stories that she has heard from her parents and grandparents from that time, which makes it easier to bring the period to life for her students. Her two proudest moments are when she received the “Sallie Mae First Year Teacher of the Year Award” in her county and also when she laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of her school. “It was a huge honor and beyond humbling,” she recalls.
Tracey views her biggest challenge as a teacher as the change in technology and social media, and how students interact with it. She also points to growing class sizes as another hurdle that educators face. Ultimately, Tracey hopes that she can truly help a student in their life. “I don’t think there is anything better than having a student return to tell me I made an impact on them or that I helped them in a particular way to make them a better human being,” she states.
Meet Mark Robinson
Albuquerque, New Mexico • St. Pius X High School
As a teacher for nearly 26 years, Mark Robinson has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments in the field of education. Throughout his career, he has taught World History, US history, Western Civilization, World Geography, Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. He currently teaches at St. Pius X High School in Albuquerque, where he has taught since 1998.
Mark faces two different challenges in his work: a lack of professional development and convincing students and parents that “history is not merely a collection of facts to be memorized (and then regurgitated verbatim on a test).” However, Mark has taken advantage of professional development opportunities from Liberty Fund and the Bill of Rights Institute, and he is doing his best to show his classes that history is “an ongoing conversation about great ideas like liberty and justice.”
Mark was selected as a 2017 Golden Apple Fellow for his work in the classroom, which he considers his proudest achievement. “To be recognized by my peers for excellence in teaching is a tremendous honor,” he recalls.
Mark is also extremely proud of the work he completed in transforming the World History curriculum at St. Pius X High School. “Rather than continue to rely on a traditional textbook, Mark states, “We created our own collection of secondary essays and primary source excerpts. We then could truly have a course organized around the discussion of great ideas about liberty, justice, and violence, rather than simply demand students memorize a collection of facts.”
Meet Julie Oglesby
Shawnee Mission, Kansas • Indian Woods Middle School
Julie Oglesby is constantly wowed by her middle school students at Indian Woods Middle School. “When I give them the necessary tools to be successful, scaffold, and then get out of the way and let them engage in discussions with one another, it is amazing what they come up with and the depth of the conversations,” she states. Julie hopes that as a teacher she can empower her students to participate in civic life in school, their community, and their government. She is especially keen on training them in civil discourse. “It’s ok to disagree, discuss, and still be friends with those that do not agree with you,” Julie says.
Julie’s biggest influence throughout her career has been her colleagues and former teachers. She also points to a network of teachers that she has developed over time from social media and professional development events. “Meeting with these educators is always inspiring and has made me the teacher I am today. I also am constantly working to improve and sharpen my skills as an educator and in turn be the teacher leader that inspires others within my building and district,” Julie says.
She faces some challenges at school when some of her students have troubled home lives, but she puts her full effort into creating a safe environment in the classroom where everyone can flourish. And her favorite era of history to teach? “I love talking about the Founding and how the Constitution relates to our everyday lives,” Julie says.
Meet Eliot Waxman
Fairfax County, Virginia • Oakton High School
Eliot Waxman has had a wide variety of experiences working both as a teacher and in politics, all of which have shaped his opinions on the state of education in the U.S. “If we really want students to be lifelong learners in an ever-changing world, we need to give them authentic and rigorous opportunities. They need to be able to learn in ways that are meaningful to them,” he states. Throughout his career, Eliot has worked as a public opinion pollster, in the federal government’s community service programs, and as a teacher of a variety of high school government and history classes.
Eliot’s greatest influence during his career was his principal at Oakton High School. “He set a vision for the school that challenged the status quo and had us think about what education in the 21st century should look like. He then trusted his staff to implement the vision in the way they thought was best for the students,” Eliot recalls. One of Eliot’s proudest achievements was when he helped create a student debate during the 2008 presidential election that was aired on C-SPAN.
Eliot especially enjoys teaching the Campaigns & Elections unit to his government classes. “I was a political consultant before I became a teacher and I like to share my experiences with the students. I particularly like to see students engaging with their elected representatives and discussing the relevant issues of the day, especially with their parents,” Eliot says. He is very interested in helping students become “effective citizens” and ultimately views it as one of his responsibilities as a teacher.
Meet Gregory Dykhouse
Holland, Michigan • Black River Public School
Gregory Dykhouse, currently in his 23rd year of teaching, has always tried to find unique ways to teach his high school students. For example, in recent years of teaching a course named “Big History,” which spans the history of the universe, he has taken his freshman students to the University of Michigan to explore the various museums located there. “For most of these students, the excursion represents the opportunity to walk the grounds of a major university campus!” Greg states. Another unique material that he uses is having his students read What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City, an account of the Flint water contamination.
Greg finds constant inspiration from his wife and children. “They hold skills and interests in many areas that are weaknesses for me, so I am reminded that there is much yet for me to do,” he says.
When he is not in the classroom, Greg participates in multiple groups that allow him to exchange ideas with other educators on how to improve high school education.
Greg is very excited to work with the Bill of Rights Institute. “A reminder of basic rights within an ordered society may be particularly helpful for our younger learners and leaders today,” he states. He points to the unprecedented levels of changes that have taken place in our society over the past century as a reason why educators have such a difficult but important job. “Our young students enter a world greatly unlike that of their parents and grandparents. Just what priorities is a high school teacher to model?” he asks. This is the driving question behind Greg’s work as an educator.
Meet Kathy Hagee
As surprising as it may sound, many teachers have not always enjoyed learning. Just ask Kathy Hagee, who has taught for 15 years. “Learning was never fun for me. I struggled with reading all through high school and into my undergraduate studies,” Kathy recalls. It was only later in her life, while pursuing a graduate degree in education, that she discovered a passion for learning.
Kathy believes her past struggles with studying have made her a better teacher today. As the History Chair and an AP US History teacher at Rolling Hills Preparatory and Renaissance Schools in San Pedro, CA, Kathy loves learning about American history. “A lot of my students come to me hating the thought of studying history because of all the words. I am committed to making those words have meaning for my students even if I have to dress like a camp follower or draw pictures all over my boards during a lecture.”
In 2012, after five years of applying, Kathy was awarded the James Madison Fellowship and returned to graduate school for a second masters. “I never gave up,” says Kathy. “I am not ashamed it took five years because some of the best things in life come after years and years of dedication and work.”
Kathy’s favorite quote came from one of her own students during a brainstorming session: “Hero. If you can’t find one, be one.”
“I think it is empowering for students to know that they can lead through serving others,” says Kathy. “The best gift we can give to others is our time and service.”
Meet Tom Barden
In a testament to the generational impact that teachers can have, when asked who one of his greatest influences was, Tom Barden pointed to Victor Harris, his high school social studies teacher (no relation to Victor Harris, a previous BRI Spotlight Educator). “Mr. Harris taught us history through the power of the narrative,” Tom says, ” which made the class interesting and we were hanging on every word.”
These days, as an AP Government and Politics and AP U.S. History teacher himself at Marcus Whitman High School in Rushville, New York, Tom finds one of his biggest challenges is getting students interested in reading primary and secondary sources that are longer in length. “They now live in a world where they look for information in apps, brief statements on web pages, or even through texts.”
Still, the rewards outweigh the challenges for Tom, who was selected Teacher of the Year by his students for the year 2015-2016 school year. His favorite era to teach is the Founding Period of 1789-1808. “Many of the political debates and partisanship of today can easily be traced back to this period and in many ways, the Founding Period was more volatile,” notes Tom.
In addition to classroom teaching, somehow Tom found time to write a book. Napoleon’s Purgatory: The Unseen Humanity Of The “Corsican Ogre” In Fatal Exile was published through Vernon Press in 2017. It is a history text that examines the human side of Napoleon Bonaparte during his final years in exile on the island of St. Helena from 1815-1821.
Meet Nicole Moretti
Lyman, Wyoming • Lyman High School
“I just completed my Master’s degree in History in one year while still teaching. I am hoping my sanity will return soon,” jokes Nicole Moretti. She is currently in her 29th year of teaching at Lyman High School in her hometown of Lyman, Wyoming where she teaches World History, World Geography, and A.P. U.S. History.
Nicole has always found proud and satisfying moments throughout her entire career. “I was privileged to teach my own children, and it was rewarding when they would text me from college saying, ‘Mom, I nailed that test because you already taught me that.’” Recently, she helped one of her former students get an internship in Russia. “My proudest moments are when my students find joy in learning and go out into the world and become upstanding citizens that make the world a better place,” Nicole states.
Her biggest challenge as a teacher is getting her students to think “outside of the box.”
“They are so electronically connected that they are having trouble with their critical thinking skills and they want to rely on technology for everything,” Nicole laments. She is, however, working hard to change that. Nicole especially enjoys teaching about the ancient Greeks, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. She loves tying these topics into U.S. History to give her students a broad view of history and promote critical thinking.
Meet Laura LaChappelle
Laura LaChappelle measures her success as a teacher not through the money or rewards she earns but rather by what goals her students achieve. “When I taught theater during the first part of my career, I told my students I wasn’t in it to hear my name mentioned in an Oscar acceptance speech, I was working to see each of them grow in confidence, poise, and communication skills,” she recalls.
LaChappelle is the Social Studies department chair and now teaches AP World History and Honors World History at Jackson High School in Jackson, Georgia. Her biggest influence as a teacher has been her family, as she says she “wants to be the kind of teacher I want my own children to have.” In fact, LaChappelle has taught all of her own children at various points throughout their education!
LaChappelle teaches at the same school and in the same department as her husband, Jason. “Sometimes that means our lives are crazy,” she states, “but we wouldn’t have it any other way.” And her favorite topic to teach? A true history buff, LaChappelle has a hard time choosing just one era but has an especially strong interest in the Medieval and Renaissance ages as well as World War I.
Meet Jotwan Daniels
Breckenridge, Colorado • Summit High School
“One of the biggest challenges in teaching today is that we as educators have allowed our students to become passive in their education, rather than active participants,” says Jotwan Daniels, who is currently in his 14th year of teaching. Daniels is committed to encouraging critical thinking in his students at Summit High School in Breckenridge, Colorado, a task he feels he has been successful at so far. “My proudest achievement in my years of teaching is honing in on my craft to become more of a facilitator of knowledge as opposed to an information broker,” Daniels states.
Daniels’ biggest inspiration in education is currently Frederick Douglass. Daniels appreciates the abolitionist’s respect for the founding principles of natural rights and human equality. He also admires Douglass’ ability to challenge popular opinion. “‘Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!’ is a phrase credited to Douglass, one I try to instill in my students as I challenge them to question history,” Daniels writes.
Daniels especially loves connecting the past with the present. His favorite era to teach is the Gilded Age because of the resemblance that time has with the modern day. “The similarities are striking in terms of themes such as immigration, urbanization, political graft, social reform, wealth distribution and disparities, technological innovations, etc.,” Daniels states. Ultimately, he wants to instill in his students the desire to question and be active in their communities, arguing, “history, when taught properly, can teach us that nothing good happens without the collective efforts of dedicated people-especially in republican governments.”
Meet Liz Schley
Although she has taught for sixteen years, not all of Liz Schley’s career has been spent teaching middle and high school social studies. Her bachelor’s degree is in Elementary Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. “I fell into being a social studies teacher 16 years ago,” Liz explains, “and being able to work through the National Board process allowed me to become the social studies teacher that I always wanted as a student.”
Liz currently teaches at Basha High School, an Arizona School of Civic Excellence, teaching AP Government and Politics and 8th-grade citizenship and civic engagement, and she also writes a blog for teachers (teachingapgovernment.com). She loves teaching about the Supreme Court and civil rights and civil liberties cases in particular.
She says her biggest influence in education is Brian Jaeger, her evaluator, mentor, and administrator for 11 years, who is now a superintendent in Iowa. “He showed me what it meant to be a teacher leader instead of a teacher manager…He helped shape me into the teacher and leader that I am today.”
What motivates her most, however, is her family, especially her seven-year-old whose favorite musical is…you guessed it: “Hamilton”!
Meet Jessica Culver
Jessica Culver is currently in her 16th year of teaching at Ozark High School in Ozark, Arkansas, and she is loving her job and her students. This year, she is teaching U.S. History since 1890 to 11th graders as well as concurrent college credit world history to 11th and 12th graders.
Jessica’s undergraduate degree is in history and her two graduate degrees are in the fields of history and library media, all from Arkansas Tech University. She is a Donors Choose Teacher Ambassador, a National Master Educator with Take Charge Today, and a Bessie B. Moore award winner for excellence in economics education.
One of her proudest achievements came in the fall of 2016 when she and five students won a trip to Washington, DC, with Envision’s Chase the Race Inauguration Contest. Through this, students met General Colin Powell (Jessica is pictured to the general’s left) and also heard from notable figures including Nobel Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai and her father Ziauddin Yousafzai, among others.
Jessica says her biggest challenge is teaching all of her curricula in one school year. One of the ways she overcomes this challenge is by engaging her students through a variety of media. “Depending on the day, you might find my history classroom using artwork, music, podcasts, artifacts, or listening to guest speakers.”
And her favorite unit to teach? “I absolutely love teaching about the suffrage movement. I use the teaching of the 19th Amendment to encourage students to become civically active and involved members of society who understand the fight of historical figures to provide us with the right to vote.”
Meet Tom Trosko
It’s an understatement to say that Tom Trosko is a man of many talents.
At different points in his life he was a restaurant cook, waiter, bartender, manager, insurance salesman, supervising agent, car sales, closer, finance manager, and now he teaches marketing and all social studies at an alternative school, the Lieser Campus at Fort Vancouver High School in Vancouver, Washington.
A true “Renaissance Man,” Tom holds degrees in Management and Accounting from Portland Community College (1990), a B.S. in Social Science from Warner Pacific College (1999) and a Masters in Curriculum and Development from Portland State University (2003).
His proudest moment in teaching is when he has his students read “The Law” by Bastiat. “I then ask them to tell me how much our country is off track from the Tenth Amendment and how far away we have gotten from Article one section eight.”
Tom says economic history is by far his favorite subject to teach. “Teaching the fact that the commerce clause was there to help keep commerce flowing, not to stop it.”
For Tom, teaching about our system of government is an opportunity to encourage young people who believe that “the system is rigged against them” to get involved and bring about change in their community and in their country.
Tom sums it all up in one word: “Fun!”
Meet Shannon Jones
Shannon grew up in Southern California but made her way to Austin, Texas chasing a soccer scholarship to UT Austin and a degree in history. Fast forward many years and Shannon happily resides in Austin with her husband and two daughters. When she isn’t teaching U.S. History to middle school students or
driving her family crazy by talking about history, Shannon enjoys running, hiking, and spending her time
She notes that her proudest achievement as an educator was receiving the James Madison Memorial Fellowship and “walking into the classroom every day with the same joy and excitement as I did that very first day I walked into the classroom 17 years ago.”
When asked about her influences, Shannon said she was inspired to teach by her aunt Barbara Alexander, and her high school Spanish teacher Rosie Geck. “Both women not only dedicated their lives to the profession of teaching but did so with a passion for their subject matter and compassion for their students.”
Shannon says he favorite unit to teach is the 19th Century Reform Movements. “Students can have a difficult time connecting to the past, but I find their interest level and ability to connect past to present happens organically with the Reform Movements.”
“When my students leave my classroom I want them to know and understand three things: the way their government (local, state, and national) is set up, their natural rights which are supposed to be protected by the government, and how to work within and outside the system to make change if those rights are not secured. The 19th Century Reform Era serves as an ideal example of people choosing to make a difference for those whose rights were not secure.”
Meet Victor Harris
“I think we have lost the art of civil political discourse in our society,” says Victor Harris who is starting his 30th year of teaching. “Part of our job (as teachers) is to show students who sometimes only want to see things one way that there are many different perspectives and gray areas on a variety of issues.”
Victor teaches Social Studies, U.S. History, and World History at Sycamore Junior High School in Cincinnati, Ohio where he is also the Social Studies Supervisor/Department Chair.
He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and received both his undergrad and master’s degrees from Miami. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he coaches baseball, basketball, and football at the junior high and high school. Victor lives in Symmes Township, a suburb of Cincinnati, with his wife Meghan and their two children.
Victor uses many Bill of Rights Institute resources in his classroom and has also attended several of BRI’s seminars.
“I think that by educating teachers and students about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, we continue the process of developing the educated citizenry that the founding fathers envisioned. All citizens need to be aware of their rights in order to make sure they are practiced and protected by the government.”
Meet Kathy Saar
Wichita, Kansas • Founders Fellowship 2015
A.A. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M
B.A. Oklahoma State University
M.A.T. Emporia State University
Participated in TEN Constitutional Seminars
My biggest achievement as a teacher is seeing my students go on and be successful citizens once they leave my classroom and high school. I have taught for almost 30 years in my current school and see many of my former students on a daily basis. I believe there are currently 10 working in my building this year. When I hear back from students how something I taught them years ago still makes sense to them today I am reminded of the many blessing I have in my life because of “my” students. This spring I’ll have one of my former students as my student teacher. The feeling of making a difference never gets old. I have this quote taped above my desk and read it daily (some days more than others):
“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
I want to say thank you to BRI for all they do for teachers. Without your support, my students would be less educated about the founding principles and core values. It is a pleasure to work with BRI and I shudder to think what my teaching might look like without the insight I’ve gotten from the BRI over the years. I am constantly encouraging other teachers to get involved with the BRI and always enjoy seeing my colleagues at BRI activities.