During spring break, Education Professor Terri Greene Henning accompanied five Saint Anselm College Secondary Education students as they visited Woodside Priory School, a Catholic Benedictine middle and high school in Portola Valley, California, connected to Saint Anselm Abbey. Among those students were Colleen Gaughan ’18 and Randy Jack ’18, both history and secondary education double majors. One Thing After Another asked them to share some thoughts about their experience.
The trip began on Saturday March 4, with a flight to San Francisco and two days of sightseeing. Students visited the Golden Gate Bridge, the University of San Francisco, the Ferry Building, the Pacific Ocean, and Alcatraz. Randy Jack said of the sightseeing, “Being a history major provided a unique perspective, because it gave Colleen and me an opportunity to appreciate the rich history of the city. Colleen and I freaked out when we saw Alcatraz for the first time! Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge was an absolute bucket list item for me so it was an incredible moment when I first laid my eyes on it. ”
On Sunday, the group made their way to Portola Valley and the Woodside Priory School. The group was housed on campus for the week, encouraging an inclusive and immersive environment. Each day, the group attended mass in the morning, observed classes with students, attended sporting events, and explored the campus. Both Gaughan and Jack were placed in classrooms to observe and teach lessons.
Colleen Gaughan, who is passionate about both history and English, was placed in an English classroom for the first few days and attended a middle school US History class later in the week. Colleen said of her experience: “I think being a history major really made a difference specifically in the history classrooms. It was great to see how they were teaching history to students, especially middle school children. In the middle school US History class, they were listening to the Broadway musical Hamilton and using that to keep students engaged in the material. I think sometimes it’s difficult to get students interested when they think history is just lectures about dead people. So making history fun and come alive was helpful for the students. I think that being a history major, I was able to recall what made me love history; I saw that same passion in the students and how they were being taught.”
Randy Jack was placed almost exclusively in a Social Studies classroom and was able to teach lessons in a US History class. Jack called the experience “fantastic” and discussed how “being a history major absolutely plays a big part in how I would like to teach. While we learn a great deal about the particular strategies in our education classes, taking history classes at Saint A’s has been important in informing how I want to utilize the strategies I’ve learned in a historical contexts.” Gaughan shares these sentiments: “In my future history classes . . . I want students to understand concepts and how events relate to each other, rather than being nitpicky about memorization of dates. The focus of my classes will be making sure students can apply what they are learning in their history class to what they are seeing in the world. Understanding where we’ve been can help inform us on where we will go.”
When asked what moments of the trip stood out to them, Gaughan and Jack both referred to their time teaching in classrooms. For Jack, “seeing the students be so engaged and laughing and having fun while learning was a good reminder of exactly why I want to be a teacher.” For Gaughan, the spiritual value of the trip was as important as the educational value. There are three Benedictine monks from Saint Anselm Abbey at the school, and the Saint Anselm students had dinner with them one night. Gaughan said, “Since there are only three monks, there was room for real discussion. Father Martin is an alum of Saint Anselm, and he used to live here before he was asked to move out to California, so it was interesting hearing his stories about how the school has changed over the years. . . . It was also very cool from a historical perspective to hear the stories of Father Pius and Father Maurus, who were two of the Hungarian monks who escaped communism by coming to the United States and eventually set up the monastic community at Priory. That dinner was one of the most memorable events of my trip.”
Their experiences at the Woodside Priory School confirmed both Gaughan and Jack’s decision to teach history. Jack admits, “My decision to become a history teacher was one that I pondered for a long time. It started out with my love for history; growing up I always loved talking about history. Eventually I decided I would love to be able to get a job using my love for history, and I figured education would be a good fit. However, when I finally entered the classroom as an educator my sophomore year, I realized it was so much more than that. I realized that being able to work with students and help them develop their own appreciation for history was equally important to me.”
For Gaughan, teaching history is a way to initiate a new generation of informed students. As she put it, “I love how history informs us of the past and helps us to understand the present. I think that by studying the people of the past we can understand what worked, what hasn’t, and what we might want to try. Understanding cause and effect is a pivotal part of understanding the past and the present, and I think that it’s a skill that is really important to develop and one I want to foster in my students.”
NOTE: In the photo above, Gaughan is third from left while Jack is fourth from left; both are holding the banner. Professor Terri Greene Henning is far left.