WHS teachers inspire students to take action


Photo by Kimberly Leegan

Mr. Cohn and Ms. Leegan at the National Council for the Social Studies

Grace Friedberg

On Nov. 22 and 23, History Teacher Kimberly Leegan and English Teacher Steven Cohn, who teach freshman humanities together, attended a two-day conference for the National Council for the Social Studies in Austin, TX.

Every year, the council brings together educators from all over the country, ranging from elementary to high school levels. According to socialstudies.org, “The mission of the National Council for the Social Studies is to advocate and build capacity for high-quality social studies by providing leadership, services and support to educators.” 

This year, the presentation delivered by both Leegan and Cohn was “Choosing to Participate: Lessons Learned from Maycomb.” According to their proposal, their main goal was “to provide [other] teachers with a project outline that summarizes skills, strategies and materials to engage students in a service-learning project inspired by the advice of Atticus Finch to Scout in Harper Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.” 

At the conference, Leegan and Cohn recommended that all teachers incorporate a program called Scope and Sequence from Facing History, a website advocating to create the next generation of leaders through learning about history. According to facinghistory.org, the program promotes “students’ historical understanding, critical thinking, empathy and social-emotional learning.” 

Their presentation at the conference demonstrated how Leegan and Cohn teach To Kill a Mockingbird at WHS and the different activities they conduct in their classroom. Leegan and Cohn’s project revolved around allowing students to recognize human behaviors, beliefs and attitudes in their own lives. 

“We talked about the personality boxes the students made where they can explain who they are and what type of person they want to be in this world,” Leegan said while addressing some of the lessons they include in their unit. “We then transition into talking about various parts of history in To Kill a Mockingbird, like the Great Depression, segregation and Jim Crow Laws, and we talk about the legacy of that time period and how it impacted society at the time. The whole idea is awakening the empathy of our students.”

Once the class has discussed the novel in full detail, Leegan and Cohn give their students a chance to evaluate how the history they just learned influences our world today and examine how they can take part in bringing about a more humane, compassionate and just world.

Students are then given the opportunity to participate in the organization Mission Haiti Helping Kids, where individuals donate gifts to Haitian children. Speakers come to the humanities classes and tell students about the work they are doing to support students in Haiti. “We do fundraising to buy shoes for kids in Haiti. The students are responsible for all of it,” said Leegan. “They come up with ideas for fundraisers, they do the fundraiser, and we are just the coaches on the sideline cheering them on.”  

Once this project is complete, Mission Haiti Helping Kids will send the WHS students pictures of the kids with their new shoes. 

After the two-day conference, Leegan and Cohn were pleased with the ideas they presented to the council. The purpose of the conference was to show other educators how to establish a vision where all students are educated and inspired for lifelong inquiry and informed civic engagement.