Street Law is thrilled to announce that its 2019 Educator of the Year is social studies teacher Kelly Jones-Wagy of Aurora, Colorado. The award will be presented at the Street Law Awards Dinner on Wednesday, April 24th in Washington, DC.
Kelly is a native of Colorado, where she has taught high school social studies for the past 13 years. Nine of those years have been spent teaching U.S. History, American Government, and Comparative Government at Overland High School in Aurora.
Kelly is a New Perspectives Teaching Fellow in Street Law’s New Perspectives Program, which has trained educators from the Denver, CO, Washington, DC, and Omaha, NE, metropolitan areas to help people with different beliefs and backgrounds converse with one another about important issues in a civil and productive way. The New Perspectives Program was designed in response to reports from teachers that their communities and classrooms feel divisive and polarized and that students (and adults) struggle to talk and listen to one another.
Bucking this trend, well-informed civil discourse is not a challenge for Kelly’s students. In fitting with her exceptional work as a New Perspectives Teaching Fellow, Kelly has made an entire career of finding creative ways to get her students interested in civilly discussing public affairs. At the start of each class, Kelly asks her students to spin a “Wheel of Fortune”-style wheel filled with current events topics—some tragic, some funny, some bizarre—and wherever the wheel lands, Kelly’s class discusses the topic for the first few minutes of class. As a result, her students can confidently and respectfully discuss wide-ranging topics such as Brexit, the conflict in Syria, the 2018 midterm elections, and the Colorado Rockies’ chances this upcoming baseball season. Perhaps even more importantly, this activity sets the tone for the rest of the day’s lesson—students put their phones and headphones away and participate in the remainder of the class with full attentiveness and respect for their peers.
No matter what the day’s lesson, Kelly says, she’ll ensure that her students understand that “it’s not about being right or wrong, but is about…supporting their opinions with credible evidence.”
Street Law lessons are a particular boon to educators like Kelly, who aim to help their students understand how to think rather than what to think. “Street Law has specifically allowed my students to see beyond their own ideas and see what other perspectives are on particular issues,” says Kelly. “It is not about changing opinions, or debating issues, it’s about having the discussion and seeing if there is a way to find common ground on controversial issues that could improve the civil discourse in America.”
In addition to her exemplary work in her own classroom, Kelly takes time to share her knowledge with her peers by presenting at local, state, and national conferences on the integration of primary sources and technology into teaching social studies. She currently works with the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program, and has been a part of the James Madison Legacy Project, and the History Colorado Digital Resources Project. She is also currently serving as an affiliate faculty member at Metropolitan State University of Denver in the department of journalism and technical communications, teaching a course called Critical Thinking through 21st Century Media.