Like with all classes at Areté Preparatory Academy in West L.A., history is taught in a unique fashion, offering students the chance to dive deep based on personal curiosity, explore from a plethora of angles, make discoveries through a host of lenses, and engage and play with ideas to build bridges from the past to the present as if on an adventurous trek with friends. Indiana Jones would approve!
Small class sizes, seminar-style learning, a philosophical approach, artfully designed classes by creative teachers, and happy, engaged students make it all happen.
But to give you a real taste of how it’s done, we sat down with Historical Mythos and Global Narratives teacher Chelsea Enos to ask her about what it’s like exploring history with students the Areté way.
Put on your safari hat, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
How did you come to teach history at Areté?
I discovered Areté while working as a communications partner supporting one of its former students. I was so impressed with the faculty, classes, and the student population. When the student I worked with graduated, I followed him to college. But, I really didn’t want to give up the community at Areté and had hoped to teach there, so I reached out to the school and applied and was lucky enough to get a position teaching history.
What class or classes do you teach?
I teach World History.
What do you love about teaching history at Areté?
Areté really values learning over metrics and standardization. It prioritizes intellectualism and critical habits of mind. The freedom to cultivate a curriculum that is innovative and inquiry driven is amazing, and the ability to co-create a learning community with your students is such a gift. The work is student-centered, which is how a school should be.
What is your process for teaching history at Areté?
My process is very organic. I believe in establishing a foundation and letting the students be active participants in the development of the epistemic learning community. I want to foster historical thinking and critical inquiry over memorization, so I try to focus on the deeper nuances of history and the larger continuum. My class is Historical Mythos and Global Narratives, and so a big part of my course is the construction of history. I also have my students do the majority of their work on a blog so that they have a living document that grows and changes with the course.
How is teaching history at Areté different from teaching history at other schools?
The freedom to cultivate your own curriculum outside of the common core makes a big difference in terms of the success of your students and the course. The class can change and grow naturally with the inquiry and interests of the students, ultimately leading to more critical discourse and increased learning.
How is it better for the students? How do students benefit from history at Areté?
The support system at Areté, both from an intellectual and socioemotional perspective, really is unparalleled. When students feel like their voices are heard and their needs are met they really thrive. History at Areté is all about innovative and dynamic approaches to the historical narrative and this allows students to really engage in innovative and dynamic ways. Learning history at Areté means cultivating skills and habits of mind that are applicable to any historical engagement.
What’s interesting to you about the current history class you’re teaching at Areté?
I find teaching world history during such a historical moment both fascinating and daunting. Situating the complexity of our time within a larger historical narrative can feel overwhelming, but it is such a joy to engage in this critical scholarship with the students. At the start of the class I asked my students, “what does it mean to study history during such a historical moment,” and I’m hoping this is something we are going to discover this year together.
What’s a favorite history project or discussion students have had in your class?
I started off this year with a time travel project. Students were tasked with charting their own time travel mission to four different locations and picking a team of famous historical figures to travel with them. They had to write a profile on each destination and team member, and also produce a critical rationale, supported by historical evidence, to justify their choices. They then shared their mission plans with the class and we had discussions around each student’s mission. This assignment allowed me to get a sense of the historical interests of my students and where these interests aligned. More than that, I got to see my students engage in historical thinking and really push themselves through critical engagement with the historical narrative. It was so interesting and fun to learn about the students’ time travel missions and to see them engage with one another’s choices.