Charles Wright Academy Upper School history teacher Laryssa Schmidt is the 2017 Washington state recipient of the James Madison Graduate Fellowship. Each year the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation offers fellowships to high school faculty who aim to teach the American constitution and awards one fellowship per state per year. “The James Madison Fellowship is recognized as the most prestigious award in the field of constitutional history and government for secondary school teachers,” says Claire McCaffery Griffin, director of special projects at the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation.
Mrs. Schmidt will apply her fellowship grant to a graduate program at Ashland University specializing in the teaching of American history and government. Upon completing her first year of graduate study, she will meet with all other 2017 fellows in Washington, D.C., for a month to attend the fellowship’s summer institute at Georgetown University. The institute’s core academic focus is a graduate course named “The Foundations of American Constitutionalism,” an examination of “the principles, framing, ratification, and implementation of constitutional government in the United States.” Mrs. Schmidt and her cofellows will have opportunities to visit historic sites affiliated with the founding of the country, including Arlington National Cemetery, Monticello, and Mount Vernon. They will also meet with a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice.
During the 2016-2017 academic year Mrs. Schmidt has taught U.S. history, Advanced Placement U.S. history, and civics. She also advises the Model United Nations and conservative clubs. “My goal in teaching both civics and AP history and government courses has been, at the very least, to help students become informed citizens and, at best, become active civic-minded citizens,” Mrs. Schmidt says. “I love studying and teaching the constitution, because I find the brilliance of the founding era fascinating. Learning is lifelong, and I am excited to broaden my knowledge base and bring new perspectives of history and the constitution into my classroom. My goal is to strengthen students’ critical-thinking skills through exposure to historical texts, documents, and perspectives and to challenge them to piece the story together.”
Mrs. Schmidt first joined the CWA community as a staff member in 2005 and became a member of the Upper School faculty within the history department in 2012. “Laryssa’s selection as a James Madison fellow is a wonderful honor for Charles Wright Academy and the history department,” says CWA Head of Upper School Bill White. “This opportunity will allow Laryssa to continue to explore and develop a greater understanding of the foundations of government, the philosophical underpinnings of the founders that have allowed the constitution to endure for more than two centuries, and the arguments behind Supreme Court cases that have defined constitutional law. This fellowship will assist the department in strengthening the school’s commitment to teaching civics and developing thoughtful citizens who will make a difference in the communities where they live. I am personally excited for Laryssa to have this extraordinary opportunity to study at Georgetown for four weeks next summer and to pursue a master’s degree in government and American history.”
Mrs. Schmidt is especially eager to undertake her graduate studies amid a less-than-temperate political climate during which, she says, the guiding principles outlined in the constitution shine brightest. “Students should be open to embracing our past, flaws and all, and understand that comparatively, our constitutional system has had the greatest success in promoting and sustaining democracy,” she says. “Today’s polarizing and volatile political climate is nothing new, and if students are well-versed in the principles that make our democracy function, the more likely they will be dedicated to upholding them, proving once again that it works.”