This summer Destrehan High School’s Kurt Hargis was chosen to participate in a pilot project developed by the National Humanities Center and the Ruth J. Simmons Center for Race and Justice at Prairie View A&M University. A key element of this project was promoting more effective teaching about the African American experience in schools across the nation.
Hargis is in his 22nd year teaching, with 17 of those years spent at DHS. He teaches computer science class and African American History.
Don Solomon, director of communications for the National Humanities Center, said Hargis was one of 24 educators chosen from across the U.S. and abroad for the institute – which allowed him to interact with eminent scholars of African American history and culture and work to develop more effective curricula and classroom resources on these subjects.
“My first takeaway was the fellowship with other educators,” Hargis said. “We had teachers from all over the United States and one from Edinburgh, Scotland. Learning from these fantastic educators is something I will cherish forever. This is especially true since this was my first time around strangers since the pandemic. Having adult conversations with people I don’t really know was strange and exciting. Each teacher’s style comes through in their presentations and little discussions in the break room. Also, their passion for teaching makes me want to be a better teacher.”
Hargis said that pedagogically speaking, the conference pushed him toward an inquiry-based model of teaching.
“We learned quite a bit from scholars about their methods of doing research,” he said. “It is pretty simple – come up with a question and scour primary sources to see if there is an answer. But when you find the answer, you probably have several more questions and then repeat the process until you have a narrative. That’s what I want my students to do. We live in an age where many primary sources have been digitalized, providing students with an excellent opportunity to become critical thinkers who interact directly with the past.”
He added that the institute also encouraged hands-on learning experiences to help participants think about ways to introduce and handle these issues in the classroom.
“Each participant drew on these experiences to create instructional resources to share with other educators through the National Humanities Center’s Humanities in Class Digital Library,” he said.
Hargis said he is eager to return to DHS this school year and apply everything he leaned.
“DHS really does feels like home,” he said. “In fact, one of the first teachers I met on campus is now my wife. Coming here after Katrina could have been a horrible experience with all the baggage that event brought, but the faculty, staff, students, and community immediately accepted me. SCPPS and DHS do a fantastic job supporting its students and staff, making me want to retire here. I have a four-year-old, so that is still a ways away.”