Yearlong project for juniors: American Humanities Experience

Juniors are given a chance to experience an interdisciplinary approach to their classes through AHE. (The Weber School/Rebecca McCullough)

Juniors are given a chance to experience an interdisciplinary approach to their classes through AHE. (The Weber School/Rebecca McCullough)

Sloane Warner

According to Social Studies teacher Dr. Rachel Rothstein, the American Humanities Experience, or AHE, is a program for juniors that emphasizes the overlap between the Modern Jewish History, American Literature, and United States History classes. Many times, the curriculum in each course matches up with one, if not both, of the other classes. Rothstein explained that AHE gives the teachers a “chance to emphasize the similarities” in the curriculums.  

In years past, seniors participated in Capstone, a similar program to that of AHE. Capstone is described on the Weber website as being “designed to provide students with the opportunity to combine an interdisciplinary seminar examination of Jewish and General Studies topics with sustained independent, academic work.” AHE was meant to be a precursor to Capstone that gave students an opportunity to work on a topic earlier in the year.

This year, AHE is focusing on three topics: race, class and gender. The goal of implementing these topics is to help students focus on their topics, even if they are broad. Students ranked these topics based on their interest levels and were then assigned one of the three. They then focus on a specific subject within their topic, such as racial disparities in the workforce.  

This is the second year that AHE has been part of the junior curriculum. Last year, students were able to write about any desired topic with little to no restrictions. This year, however, the AHE teachers decided that having a framework with more structure would make the project more straightforward. Dr. Rothstein says that the project will be “more manageable in the long run because too much choice can make it [the project] more difficult” for the students.

Social Studies, English and Jewish Studies teachers are each affiliated with a topic, and students are assigned one of these teachers as a mentor. They then meet with their mentors to choose a subject, work on their assignments and discuss the topic. Once students have chosen a subject that they are interested in, they then focus on the culminating project of AHE, a research paper. English teacher Corinne Skott agrees with Dr. Rothstein and says that throughout the course, students learn the skills needed to write a research paper and then are able to write about topics that pique their interests in a college essay format. 

As the year progresses, students will read and analyze texts in all three subjects. Four texts will be read, including works by the Sweatshop Poets and a short story by Philip Roth. So far, students have read Moses Seixas’ letter to George Washington in both American History and Modern Jewish History classes, with plans to do the same in English courses.  

Set of “Crossing Delancey” at the MJCCA. (The RamPage/Sloane Warner)

The AHE curriculum also works to incorporate Atlanta’s cultural opportunities into students’ experiences. This year, students were asked to attend Alliance Theatre’s Production of “Crossing Delancey” at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta in Dunwoody.  The play, originally written by Susan Sandler, tells the story of Izzy, a young Jewish woman living in New York, her “Bubbie” and Izzy’s love life. The show pulls from traditional Jewish practices, such as arranged marriages through a “Yente,” but also broaches issues that many Jewish families face in today’s more modern world.  Mrs. Skott says, “I really did enjoy it, it evoked a lot of memories.  It made me think about how we [she and her husband] came to be.  I’m excited to see how the students apply our themes of race, class and gender to Susan Sandler’s work.” The movie version of the production will be shown at Weber for students who cannot see the production.

Throughout the year, students should strive to fulfill the requirements of AHE as well as meeting their own goals.  Mrs. Skott has some ideas of student objectives, saying they should “take risks, challenge assumptions and learn to embrace the beauty of evolving ideas.  Since this is a research project, they should research, search and then search again.”  She hopes that students continue to revisit their work and that they “embark on a journey” of the multi-perspective environment.