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Wayne Vance
Center on Congress

George Vlahakis

Last modified: Thursday, April 18, 2002

Five educators from Indiana honored for outstanding teaching about Congress

Five social studies teachers from across Indiana will be honored Friday (April 19) in Indianapolis with Indiana University Center on Congress Outstanding Teaching Awards.

The awards will be presented at a luncheon that is part of the annual spring convention of the Indiana Council for the Social Studies, at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. The luncheon will begin at 12:15 p.m.

Teachers receiving awards will be Michael Berry of Brownsburg Junior High School, Matthew L. Gerber of Culver Academies, Michael Gordon of Bishop Hall Institute in Hammond, Mary Scifres Grabianowski of Zionsville High School, and Pat Wilson of Bloomington High School North.

The award, for exemplary teaching about the U.S. Congress, includes $5,000 to each teacher. Lee Hamilton, a former congressman from Indiana and director of the IU center, and Suellen Reed, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, will present the honors.

The Center on Congress at IU, founded in 1998 and directed by former congressman Lee Hamilton, is carrying out a wide range of activities aimed at improving public understanding of Congress. The center's Outstanding Teaching Awards are given annually to teachers at middle and high schools who have made exemplary efforts at teaching about Congress. This is the third year for the awards, which are sponsored by the Cummins Engine Foundation in Columbus, Ind.

Here is more information about each award recipient and what makes their teaching efforts outstanding:

-- Berry requires his students at Brownsburg Junior High School to research and contact members of Congress. Students may choose their own working groups of four or five students, who research five randomly selected members of Congress and the issues they face in their committees. Using that information, the group selects a committee and creates an appropriately unique public policy measure to present. When they have prepared the measure to fit the provided format, they forward it to the congressman and wait for a reply. Berry said, "This personal connection between students and members of Congress will demonstrate how citizens and representatives work together for the common welfare."

-- Gerber's students at Culver Academies role-play how members cast their votes in Congress. He simulates voting on a proposed amendment to ban flag desecration and has the students write a letter to either the American Civil Liberties Union or the American Legion explaining why they voted against a position. "Students not only learn about how a member of Congress makes a decision, but also learn about the issues surrounding flag desecration," Gerber said.

-- Gordon's students at Bishop Hall Institute participate in a legislative simulation and are asked to portray a member of Congress. They are appointed to a committee and asked to submit legislation. Students choose their party affiliations and their leadership, and then get to work debating the bills in committee, on the floor and in conference committee. "They see how many hands touch a bill and how many minds can improve an original idea," Gordon said. "The students see that not just majority but consensus is required."

-- Scifres Grabianowski uses a variety of activities with her students at Zionsville High School. They include using the "We the People Curriculum," requiring students to attend at least one governmental meeting, court trial session or political campaign program each grading period. "Watching and participating in local government reinforces the concept of representative democracy. Students feel empowered as citizens," she said.

-- Wilson's students at Bloomington High School North have formed a partnership with students at Fairview Elementary School. Her students research congressional leaders and their backgrounds to produce content for Web pages that will provide this information in a comprehensive format appropriate for fifth-grade students. "Beyond providing up-to-date congressional biographies, the North students wanted to establish a mentor relationship with these fifth graders," Wilson said. "Fairview students will be encouraged by North students to think of questions throughout the semester that they would like to have researched."

More information on the IU Center on Congress and its teaching awards is available at the center's Web site at