West Roxbury, Mass.— Mr. Michael Fess joined the Massachusetts Historical Society this summer as a Swensrud Teacher Fellow, one of only three Swensrud Fellows chosen by the society after it accepted his proposal for a curricular topic concerning non-violent protest in America.
For the duration of his fellowship, Mr. Fess, a middle school social studies teacher at Catholic Memorial School, earns a four-week residence, a $4,000 stipend, and unlimited access to artifacts and documents at the society.
“This opportunity allows me to broaden my horizons in terms of the resources that I can use in my classroom in order to create a more engaging, student-centered, and historical approach for my students,” said Mr. Fess, who also serves as the Assistant Athletic Director at CM.
“The Massachusetts Historical Society has a such a rich history of excellence and there are many great people working there, so I am hoping to learn from them and the way in which they approach history in order to better improve the experience of my students in my classes.”
Swensrud Teacher Fellows create lesson plans inspired by research performed at the Massachusetts Historical Society according to the society’s website. By December, all fellows must present a curricular unit based on their research from over the summer.
Mr. Fess intends to use artifacts and documents from the Massachusetts Historical Society's archives to build a curriculum that focuses on the history of nonviolent protest in the United States, with its history in Massachusetts as a focal point. He plans to incorporate his findings into his 7th grade social studies course Perspectives of Citizenship.
Created by Mr. Fess last year, Perspectives of Citizenship focuses on citizenship from local, national, and global perspectives. Last year, his students compared how icons from across the world, those including the likes of Dorothy Day, Malala Yousafzai, and Fred Korematsu, understood citizenship. They then took a closer look at how those icons implemented non-violent protest before examining the history of non-violent protests in America. Afterwards, Mr. Fess’ students switched their focus to current non-violent protests by studying the goals, actions, and influences of Colin Kaepernick and his kneeling protest during the National Anthem of NFL games.
As the course progressed, students learned how to analyze the purpose, morality, and effectiveness of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience. The feedback and engagement that Mr. Fess noticed from his students prompted him to apply for the fellowship.
“I’m hoping to create meaningful dialogue and thought towards the rights and responsibilities of citizens,” he added.
“History has always been a passion of mine and I have been lucky to have the opportunity to share this passion with my students through my teaching at CM.”
Before arriving at CM, Mr. Fess discovered how to best practice this passion when he first taught history and religion at St. Robert Bellarmine School in Burbank, California. While at the school, he also started an academic decathlon and coached middle school basketball. Later, he worked at the Loyola Marymount University Athletic Department, which enabled him to draw upon his undergraduate experience at the College of the Holy Cross. At Holy Cross, Mr. Fess captained the varsity football, broke the school record for receptions, and earned the prestigious Crusader of the Year Award.
CM gave Mr. Fess the framework for an interdisciplinary, active learning approach. Known as CM’s Knight Based Learning (KBL) philosophy, the learning approach operates within the framework of CM’s Brother Edmund Rice Tradition. It connects faith and service with real-life problems across a variety of disciplines.
In accordance with this educational model, Mr. Fess expects his research on non-violent protests to enhance the perspectives of his students in his Perspectives of Citizenship course. He hopes that they use their added perspective to identify and form solutions to the many injustices that occur in today’s world.