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A SPECIAL INITIATIVE FOR OUR NATION’S CAPITOL CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

The city of Washington is rich in history, and landmarks abound. One can live a lifetime in DC and never see or hear of the events in history that make it our nation’s capital, and which can instill a newfound sense of activism.

Why America? was started by the Center for Education Reform (CER), a group whose 25-year history began in Washington, DC, and was instrumental in bringing about the charter school movement here and nationwide. CER collaborated with FOCUS DC to make experiential learning come alive for students in charter schools, as well as, other school sectors when they can join us. Why charters? Because you have the flexibility to accommodate new and different learning opportunities and are not stifled by as much bureaucracy as the traditional system.

We have identified places that students may have never gone, and found and developed content with experts and educators to make issues come alive for students. We cannot and will not claim to know how to teach your charter school students – that is not our expertise. But we can help expand their horizons, drive interest and engagement and help you help them become the revolutionaries of the future the way our founders were the revolutionaries of the past.

VIEW THE
WHY AMERICA?
NEWSLETTER

FEBRUARY
MARCH

And so this brief report, our second, is designed to introduce or reintroduce you to what we are doing, what we have done, and what we hope to achieve. While we may only be in one city now, we are hopeful that asking “Why America?” in every city will drive more knowledge, more understanding, and more appreciation of civil society and American history, instilling in young people an understanding of what it means to be an American. Our hope is that in some small way we help students know and love America – and work to make it the country they need and want!

HOW IT WORKS

We create themes around historic venues. We equip District charter schools with logistical support and other incentives to help students participate in “Why America?”

 

HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE INVOLVED

It’s easy. If you want to have a school – yours or some other charter – participate or you’d like to help us broaden the reach of “Why America?”, write us at events@edreform.com or call 202-750-0016 

And a special note to teachers. “Why America?” is meant as a teaching aide and help to you. We welcome – and need – your input and support. Please contact us at any time about any aspect of the program.

MOST RECENT EVENT

WHY AMERICA? THE ARMED FORCES,
MEMORIAL DAY AND FLAG DAY (JUN, 2019)

Held during National Flag Week on June 10 at the Pentagon!  This program was created in partnership with the Department of Defense and taught students how to present and display the American flag, which has been a symbol of our nation since June 14, 1777, learned to #KnowYourMIL and discovered why on Memorial Day we pause to honor those who have fought and died to protect it.   

Held at the Pentagon’s Library Conference Center, students and adults went through security. Once inside, they were given worksheets to follow along, treated to the Army Quintet Band, an introduced to the Pentagon with a trivia contest, interactive discussion with members of all the armed services, and more.

Teacher Resources

Here are some resources we’ve curated should you have an opportunity to spend time preparing your students for the event on Monday. Be sure to help them develop some questions! We want this to be engaging and fun for them – and you as well!

ABOUT FLAG DAY, JUNE 14

Flag Day Celebrated

Today in History, June 14

Star Spangled Banner

ABOUT MEMORIAL DAY, WHY WE CELEBRATE

Memorial Day History

ABOUT THE ARMED FORCES

Know Your Military

PAST Why America? Events:

WHY AMERICA? THE PRESIDENT’S NEIGHBORHOOD (APR, 2019)


On a beautiful April 29th spring day CER hosted “WHY AMERICA? The President’s Neighborhood, in partnership with the White House Historical Association (WHHA).  Over 200 students from five schools toured the WHHA headquarters, the Decatur House, Lafayette Square across from the White House, and learned about this historical area of Washington, DC. 

Since the White House was first occupied by President John Adams in 1800, influential people and organizations—or those who hoped to have influence—have bought property and built homes and offices along the streets surrounding the White House.

Our visit started at Stephen Decatur’s house, who built his house in the President’s Neighborhood, using the prize money he was awarded for his naval conquests in the War of 1812.  The house now serves as the HQ of the White House Historical Association.  Students and teachers learned about the history of the White House and the area before embarking across eight stations, created to amplify different aspects of the house and the park outside.  
  

To stir the students’ interest, CER worked with the historical association to create a fun and engaging contest which they began immediately to try to win! The students were often seen collaborating together on how to answer the questions.  

 “Eye opening” is a cliché of course, but there is no other expression to accurately describe the day for these 200 + students, unless it is “mind opening”. CER, and the teacher chaperones from the schools, think it was both.  A day well spent, providing to the students some of the answers to the question “Why America?”

Teacher Resources

To help you prepare your class for the trip, we have assembled the following resources:

A Classroom Resource Packet on the White House Neighborhood from the White House Historical Association along with numerous other materials. Also from their education resources, they have several short videos, including one that helps explain the organization and work they do to preserve the legacy of the White House

President’s Neighborhood collection on the WHHA website. This collection contains several additional historian articles and a link to our recent 1600 Sessions podcast about Decatur House.

Mobile app- White House Experience. Here teachers and students can virtually tour the White House public rooms and learn about the collections inside- there is also a second tour right now about presidential transportation. The mobile app has an additional tour of the neighborhood that is not available through web version

WHY AMERICA?  THE FATHER OF OUR COUNTRY & THE WOMEN WHO PRESERVED IT (FEB, 2019)

   

Held at the venerable  Shakespeare Theater Company’s Sidney Harman Hall, our February day focused on George Washington and the strong women who surrounded him.  Arriving at the theater, over 500 students from a dozen schools were serenaded by the U.S. Army Brass Quintet who also played the National Anthem after presentation of the colors by the Army Color Guard. Our moderator and host Lawrence Staten, head of the history department at Washington Latin charter school,  introduced a video about Washington and Lincoln (as we’d just passed President’s Day) stressed the importance that character played in the lives of both of them, then brought up to the stage some of the people who knew Washington best, including:

His long-time friend Dr. Craik, who spoke about Washington’s character and leadership as a soldier, colonel and general, and showed all how to properly bow and curtsey.

Martha Washington, who spoke about Washington’s life as a farmer, statesman and family man,  the contributions of women during this time, and the difficulties of being alone for long periods during the Revolution.

Mt. Vernon’s resident Fifer, Don Francisco who played fifes, flutes and drums to demonstrate their different sounds,  had volunteers from the audience up to try marching along to the drumbeat and had others attempt some 18th century dance steps.

Caroline Branham an enslaved house maid at Mt. Vernon explained their daily lives, and then transformed herself into present-day Brenda Parker to shared the origins of many songs of the enslaved community and to explain how song served as a tool for those in bondage to express their faith, carry out their work and lament their pain.

Miss America 2019. Nia Franklin then took the stage, gave an inspirational talk about perseverance and faith and then led the entire audience in singing “God Bless America”.  Nia was followed by Allison Farris, Miss D.C. 20189, who stressed to the students the importance that leadership, character and service to community and country should have in their lives.  There were few dry eyes in the house after these two spectacular ladies spoke.

History literally came alive for the students, who along the way also learned how to bow and curtsey from Martha Washington and how to march, quick march and do a jig courtesy of Fifer Don Francisco.The day ended with the happy students getting box lunches for the bus rides back to their schools…with tummies full of goodies, heads full of history and at least part of the answer to the question, Why America?

Teacher Resources

Resources about George Washington

Video:  Biography of George Washington for Kids: Meet the American President – FreeSchool(for younger students) (4:48 min)

Video:  George Washington – First U.S. President | Mini Bio | BIO(for older students) (4:45 min)

Art:Learning about President George Washington via Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart – 1796

Portrait– For project or print for Students

Teaching Activity for Lansdowne Portrait– for Educators

National Endowment for the HumanitiesFull teacher resource guide for Picturing America

Women, Abolition, and Suffragist Movements

Video:History of Women’s Suffrage

African American Suffragists -From CommonLit

CommonLit developed this package for you, which includes a new lesson on African-American suffragists. The lesson includes a pre-reading activity, comprehension questions for students to answer during reading, and a writing activity to synthesize what students have read. The lesson also includes a student-facing slide deck, and a teacher answer key to the student worksheet.

Student directed reading

Student facing deck

Teacher copy

Video:Phillis Wheatley Bio

Video:About Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR)

WHY AMERICA?  THE ORIGINS OF MONEY & ALEXANDER HAMILTON (JAN, 2019)

    

Planned in honor of Alexander Hamilton’s birthday, we set out to mix a bit of economics with American history. The venue was the historic Anderson House, a gilded-age (built in 1905) mansion on Embassy Row that is the longtime headquarters of The Society of the Cincinnati. The Society is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army (Hamilton was its second President) and their French counterparts, Anderson House contains the Society’s extensive library and museum.

More than 300 students participated across two sessions. They were first introduced to a history of the Anderson House by Jack Warren who said that in this nation “I have a job and you have a job, and that’s to make sure we are all free. That’s what being an American is all about.”. Then they were introduced to precisely who Alexander Hamilton was by Lawrence Staten, Chair of the History Department at Washington Latin Charter School

Gina Cappo Pack, producer of the highly acclaimed film “Discovering George Washington” showed clips from her award winning documentary “Rediscovering Hamilton”. After a lively Q & A with Pack, the students broke into groups of 25–30 for a series of interactive “learning stations” exploring the historic artifacts, museum and library of Anderson House.

These included lessons on Hamilton’s finance legacy and his influence on the Treasury, his on-again, off-again relationship with George Washington, and a history of the Society of Cincinnati and Hamilton’s role in founding and guiding it in its early years.

The finale of the day was a reconvening in the grand ballroom for discussion where the kids shared something new they learned or didn’t know before. This was a fascinating way to end the program and hear directly from the students. The kids were all given box lunches and “national school choice week” scarves as they left, hopefully with full stomachs and minds.

Teacher Resources

CommonLit developed this package for you, which includes a pre-reading activity, comprehension questions for students to answer during reading, and a writing activity to synthesize what students have read. The lesson also includes a student-facing slide deck, and a teacher answer key to the student worksheet.

Student directed reading

Teacher copy

Student-facing slide deck

WHY AMERICA? THE ELECTIONS (DEC, 2019)

In December, CER hosted the kick-off event for the yearlong Why America? initiative. Why America? The Election was held at President Lincoln’s Cottage, where over 300 DC public charter school students from 10 schools came together to learn about and celebrate American democracy. Students were able to engage with Representative Luke Messer of Indiana and Paul Mitchell of Michigan, as they shared stories from their backgrounds and their thoughts about civic duty and service. Students also heard from US Marine veteran Michael Desmond, representing the Travis Manion Foundation, about the importance of building character. And what better place than the beautiful and historic Lincoln’s Cottage for students to reflect on the importance of strong character and civic engagement!