Making history in Wheaton

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Not everyone can say they plan to travel to the past over their summer vacation, but Wheaton history teacher Jason Navarro is going to do just that.

Navarro, the newly named Teacher of the Year for the State of Missouri through the National History Day competition, is taking a step back in time to re-visit the Civil War by visiting historic sites in Vicksburg, Miss., Shiloh, Tenn., Gettysburg, Pa., Antietam, Md., Harper's Ferry, W. Va., and the United States Army War College, located in Carlisle, Pa.

"The trip is paid for through the Teaching American History grant," Navarro said. "This year, 25 teachers from southwest Missouri will be traveling to see these sites and learn more about them. When we return to class, we develop lesson plans for our classes."

The trip is an exciting adventure for Navarro, who develops study plans geared toward engaging student interest in what is typically a dreaded subject in school.

"My goal is my kids will never be one of those students who hated high school history," he said. "Teachers have to show excitement and dial up the teaching curve by incorporating videos, period music and using technology to inspire learning. Students take away a deeper understanding and appreciation for history through role-playing and making connections from the past to the present to really understand it."

His dedication to teaching the subject is clear. Students participating in History Bowl contests prepare for the competition on their own time.

"Many schools in the competition use school time to prepare for History Day," Navarro said. "Schools that win the contest are usually the ones that have mandatory or gifted programs. We don't do that. My kids come in before school, after school and sometimes on holidays.

"I'm proud that my students are able to dedicate themselves and be able to compete against kids who use class time to prepare," Navarro said.

"We got attention for the nomination because we do so well at History Day," he continued. "Especially for a small school."

Navarro was nominated for the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award by Dr. Paul Teverow, a Missouri Southern State University professor and History Day coordinator.

"I didn't expect the award," Navarro said. "It was a big surprise when I learned of it, but it's nice to see someone being recognized for what their students are achieving. My reward is seeing kids get passionate about the material."

Navarro said history teaches everyone to be better citizens.

"What we learn through history makes us better people no matter what type of job you go into," he said. "Even though [the nation is] divided, there is a sense that everyone loves it and will defend it. In times of need, we all manage to come together.

"There is a constant struggle between federal power and state rights and it manifests over and over," Navarro continued. "I like students to understand how history relates to current events in their lives. I listen to the news and make connections to things that have happened in the past."

Navarro has been teaching at Wheaton School District for 12 years and is the school's History Day sponsor. This year, he took 15 students to MSSU for regional competition, 11 of which qualified for state competition. One student placed third at that level, making her an alternate for the national competition in June.

"I have to give credit to the administrators, teachers and the community," Navarro said. "Without their support for the program, we would not be as successful. If we qualify for a contest, they make sure we get there."

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