Not Your Average History Class

September 26, 2018

Imagine a high school course that not only offered classroom learning, but real-world internships as well. Madeira offers this extraordinary combination as part of its history curriculum, leveraging its signature internship program, The Madeira Co-Curriculum Path, and its proximity to Washington, DC.

United States History and the Co-Curriculum program are natural partners because working in the “living classroom” of Capitol Hill as interns for members of Congress - with direct exposure to the legislative process - is a hallmark of junior year at Madeira.

An example of a Madeira student influencing legislation is Caroline McCullers, who used her junior year Capitol Hill internship with Congressman José E. Serrano to directly affect national policy. Caroline researched and presented a bill on student loan debt to Congressman Serrano and convinced him to co-sponsor the bill, known as H.R. 3572 – “Making College More Affordable Act.” Caroline continued her work with Congressman Serrano over the summer.

“One of the goals we have at Madeira is that Co-Curriculum should not just be ‘Co’ but actually embedded with and a part of a student’s regular curriculum,” notes History Teacher Larry Pratt.

Here is how the course works. Juniors spend one five-week “module” interning on Capitol Hill, experiencing the US government firsthand. They take a US History course the same year. With these requirements in mind, the course seeks to achieve several things: (1) to combine standard US history lessons with current events, analyzing how these lessons apply to the world today; (2) to prepare the students for their Capitol Hill internships by teaching them about the government and how the legislative process works.

Pratt continues: “The students learn about the American Revolution and the adoption of the Constitution. Then, instead of continuing like a normal history class would, we evaluate how the Constitution functions today, primarily with a legislative focus in mind. The students learn what the role of government is, what the branches do, and how the system works together. It is important that the students understand the full picture and comprehend what their member of Congress is doing.”

In addition to learning about how the legislative process works, students must be prepared to participate in it. Before the internships, students choose an issue that is of strong interest to them, then seek to work with a representative who has a connection to that particular issue.

By selecting their passion issue and by learning about the legislative process of government beforehand, students are better prepared for their internships. Since they are working full-time for five weeks, they are able to take on substantive projects and come away with an experience not many other people, let alone teenagers, can boast.

In evaluating Madeira student intern Aves Mocek’s contributions to the office of Senator Angus King, the Senator’s office commented: “Aves is clearly mature beyond her years; most of our staffers routinely forgot she was still in high school and not one of our college interns.”

The work is not done once the students return from Capitol Hill. In addition to their capstone projects, which they complete concurrently with their internships, students must apply the research skills they learned during their placements to draft a legislative proposal which their member of Congress would support.

“The idea is to have an authentic proposal that students can share with their office on a particular issue they’ve been working on,” Pratt explains. “Part of the requirement for the proposal is that it has to be an issue that their representative would support. Even if they disagree with their representative on the political spectrum, they still have to anticipate the objections that their representative would make and tailor their solution so that it would be acceptable to their office.”

By experiencing history firsthand, with front row seats on Capitol Hill for historic events, and an opportunity to impact policy, Madeira students graduate with a solid resume that rivals those of most college students. Combining traditional US history lessons with practical lessons about the inner workings of the US government, a lengthy and substantive Capitol Hill internship, and a research project that calls for actual legislative proposals makes Madeira’s history curriculum anything but average.