Loudoun Co. students learn history, collaboration in creating books

Raffael, Ellison and Fernando meet with the 4th graders via Google Meet. (Courtesy LCPS)
Raffael, Ellison and Fernando meet with the fourth-graders via Google Meet. (Courtesy Loudoun County schools)
Loudoun County Public Schools students Sofie Steel and Hudson Reilly collaborate on the project. (Courtesy LCPS)
Loudoun County Public Schools students Sofie Steel and Hudson Reilly collaborate on the project. (Courtesy Loudoun County schools)
Some of the books created this year. (Courtesy LCPS)
Some of the books created this year. (Courtesy Loudoun County schools)
A sample page from one of the books. (Courtesy LCPS)
A sample page from one of the books. (Courtesy Loudoun County schools)
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Raffael, Ellison and Fernando meet with the 4th graders via Google Meet. (Courtesy LCPS)
Loudoun County Public Schools students Sofie Steel and Hudson Reilly collaborate on the project. (Courtesy LCPS)
Some of the books created this year. (Courtesy LCPS)
A sample page from one of the books. (Courtesy LCPS)

The Constitution, Bill of Rights and the causes of the American Revolution are important parts of the curriculum for students everywhere — but some in Loudoun County, Virginia, are also learning some harder-to-quantify lessons.

Fourth-grade social studies teacher Kathryn Hicks and her mother, Tracy Cody, who teaches 12th-grade government, were out walking in 2017, when they realized their curriculum touched on several similar topics.

“I think my exact words were, ‘Hey, we teach the same stuff,'” said Hicks, who now teaches at Evergreen Mill Elementary School.

At Loudoun County High School, “We’re talking about it with regards to developing the American form of democracy in government,” said Cody.

Mother and daughter envisioned having their classes collaborate: “We wanted the two groups to work together, and write a story — the fourth-graders draw the pictures, and the 12th-graders write the story.”

While Cody initially assumed the finished product would be printed out and bound, her school librarian raised the possibility of self-publishing the book, through Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing. Since 2017, the mother-daughter team, and their classes have written, edited and published the books.

Lessons go beyond words and photos on each page

Each year, fourth-grade history and 12th-grade government classes meet several times virtually to draft the book ideas and share the drawings and writing.

“I give the 12th graders the fourth-grade curriculum, and say, ‘Make sure when you’re writing this story, that you hit all these standards,'” said Cody.

Through the online meetings, the younger and older students get to know each other, and work together on how to tell the stories in creative and interesting ways.

“One group told the story of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from the perspective of their quills,” Cody said.

“It was a superhero story of these quills coming in and saving the day,” elaborated Hicks. “We’ve had time travelers, where kids are traveling back in time to meet these famous people, and learn more about their world.”

As the project nears completion, the high-schoolers go to the elementary school for a field trip to meet their younger counterparts, and edit together.

In addition, the students gain valuable interpersonal skills, while mastering the material: “It’s really good because they have to know the material well enough to make sure they’ve explained it, and that the information is accurate

“They benefit tremendously,” said Cody. “I’ve had some 12th-graders that haven’t spoken a peep in class, and they take the lead in group.”

Both teachers are invigorated by watching their students discussing, explaining and presenting history in ways that resonate with them.

“Every time we end a Zoom meeting, I say, ‘This is why I teach,’ said Cody.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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