Heritage High School’s social studies department has a recipe for success: engaged students, passionate teachers and supportive administrators.

Heritage High recently received the third highest valued-added score on its U.S. history assessments, according to the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. The system, which measures academic growth, helps educators identify best practices and implement programs that best meet the needs of their students.

“Passion is infectious,” said Kevin Rowland, assistant social studies department chair. “In our U.S. history classes, we hit the right balance between serious study and keeping it interesting. They feed off our love of learning.”

Teachers introduce a lot of primary sources — including historical documents, music from different eras, political cartoons, propaganda, speeches and videos — in their classrooms. Educators also organize relevant activities, such as hosting a local Holocaust survivor and recreating the Dust Bowl while learning about the Great Depression.

“Our teachers love their subject matter, and students sense it,” said Don Jochen, social studies department chair. “We’re always pursuing research, reading books and trying to stay abreast.”

Educators also document trips to cities and sites mentioned in state curriculum — including Atlanta, Houston, New York City, Rhea County Courthouse, STAX Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, Washington, D.C. and Sgt. Alvin C. York’s home — and incorporate this material into their lessons, he said. “We’re a well-travelled department.”

‘Teacher’s wealth of knowledge’

“A teacher’s wealth of knowledge and experience directs and facilitates the learning in our classroom,” Jochen said, noting the majority of Heritage High’s social studies department hold advanced degrees. “However, we draw upon other resources, including students. It makes for a more challenging and rewarding experience.”

Heritage High routinely serves exchange students who enrich the classroom experience, Jochen said. Teachers call upon these students, who have come from Brazil, Germany, Serbia and Ukraine, to discuss economic and political issues in their respective countries and geographical regions.

Educators also allow students to introduce online research they’ve conducted, he said. “Many students are intensely interested in history, and we want them to share this interest with each other. We want them to learn from each other, as well. It’s one of the most powerful forms of learning. Our teachers also encourage students to perform their best work. They’re able to get each student’s best work, because they build relationships and relate to them.”

“We’re teaching students who have deep roots in Blount County,” Rowland said. “They grew up in a culture that appreciates the importance and value of history. It makes my job as a history teacher more rewarding.”

‘Outstanding administrators’

The entire social studies department shares in the third place ranking, Jochen said. “While U.S. history is the only graded course, students receive an excellent foundation in world geography and world history in their freshman and sophomore years. Teachers are able to take students to another level, because they have such a strong foundation.”

Educators emphasize content, such as World War I, World War II, Korea War and Vietnam War, that students will study further in U.S. history, Rowland said. “We tell them they’re going to see it again. They know what’s coming. It’s not a surprise.”

Jochen wanted to publicly thank Heritage High’s administrators for their support. “We have outstanding administrators who provide us the necessary support to achieve this third place ranking in the state. We’re lucky to have all our teachers. We work well together, and our administration supports us. They have confidence in us and how we’re teaching.”

“We all have different styles of teaching, but they’re all effective,” Rowland said. “They don’t force us into a cookie cutter approach. Each of us has our strengths, and they’ve given us the freedom to play to these strengths. We try to reward them with great test scores.”

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