Houston Academy's mission calls for our students to engage in “responsible participation” in society. For this reason, civics, United States history, geography, economics, and government are all central to our social science curriculum. Our notion of responsible participation in society goes well beyond teaching our students that it is important to vote. We believe our students should have the knowledge, skills, and inclination to think critically and debate the issues facing our city, state, country, and world. Finally, we believe that active participation in our society means that our students will be engaged in authentic community service. That is, our students are required to go out and “do,” not merely sit in a desk and focus on scholastic endeavors.
In our Lower School, we provide students subscriptions to the online resource, Social Studies Weekly, in which the students interact in a technology-rich, engaging way, with current events, government, and geography.
Of particular note, the second graders do a project on “Famous Americans,” in which the students research how various citizens contributed to our nation. In third grade, there is a particular focus on Alabama history, geography, and government, and the students take a field trip to the state capital.
Across all Lower School grades, the students engage in special lessons surrounding elections, Veterans’ Day, and 9/11, and they regularly enjoy visits from politicians such as Martha Roby, Mayor Mark Saliba, and former Mayor Mike Schmitz.
In the Middle School at Houston Academy, students study U.S. government and geography. Topics include:
· foundations of democracy;
· federal government officials and buildings;
· federal versus state law;
· the U.S. Constitution, itself and federal laws;
· the state government officials and buildings;
· the Alabama state constitution and state laws;
· local government buildings and officials;
· local laws and ordinances;
· comparative US and other democratic systems;
· Regional geographic features, including climate zones, oceans, native vegetation, indigenous animals, common belief systems, regional traditions, and industrialization.
In the 5th grade, students travel to American Village in Montevallo and learn about the founding of the republic, and actively engage with colonial reenactors to make history come alive. Seventh and eighth graders travel to Washington, D.C., where, typically, they are able to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Additionally, they visit the major historical landmarks, see historical documents, as well as museums in the Smithsonian complex and the Library of Congress.
Finally, in the Middle School advisory program, students have themes centered around patriotism and civics, and the importance of active participation in our government and society.
The Upper School social studies and history curriculum involves both world and U.S. perspectives. The following courses are offered that are relevant to U.S. government and history.
U.S. History or AP U.S. History is required for graduation at H.A. This course surveys America’s colonial period to contemporary times. Students are expected to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the major political, social, cultural, economic, and diplomatic themes of American history. Through the study of current events, students gain an understanding of the relevance of the past to their daily lives. Analytical skills are emphasized.
Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History
This college-level survey course is geared specifically toward the Advanced Placement United States History Test. It covers American history from the earliest known records to the present, with special attention to social and political trends, themes, and movements. Extensive reading, including assigned summer reading, and weekly written assignments are required. Class discussion and debate are essential; analytical skills, therefore, are stressed. Tests modeled after the AP test are administered regularly, and review sessions are scheduled as needed, particularly during the second semester.
All seniors take American Government or AP US Government and Politics. This semester course examines in depth the current American political system on the local and national level. Attention is directed to the study of the Constitution and the respective branches of government. Essay writing and critical thinking skills are broadened. The students engage in a mock Congress, which is a capstone experience. Students play the role of U.S. Senators and Representatives, as they draft legislation and guide its passage.
Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. Government and Politics
AP U.S. Government and Politics provides a college-level introduction to key political concepts, ideas, institutions, policies, interactions, roles, and behaviors that characterize the constitutional system and political culture of the United States. Students will study U.S. foundational documents, Supreme Court decisions, and other texts and visuals to gain an understanding of the relationships and interactions among political institutions, processes, and behavior. They also engage in disciplinary practices that require them to read and interpret data, make comparisons and applications, and develop evidence-based arguments. In addition, they complete a political science research or applied civics project.
All seniors take Economics or AP Macroeconomics. Usually paired with Government, this course introduces the various economic systems and theories with an in-depth analysis of America’s free enterprise system. It provides the students a broad introduction to the study of macroeconomics with an emphasis on contemporary problems and consumer economics.
Advanced Placement (AP) Macroeconomics
AP Macroeconomics is a fast-paced, college-level course that focuses on the decision making of individuals, businesses, and the government. Students will study a variety of economic theories and analyze their practical application in the real world.
This semester course focuses on the economy as a whole, including economic measures, economic growth, fiscal policy, monetary policy, and international economics. Students are required to take the AP Macroeconomics in May. Extensive math skills are not required; however, the ability to analyze graphs and charts is essential.
The Sixties in America, Honors
This semester course covers two pivotal decades, the two “60s” that the United States has experienced since its founding, the 1860s and 1960s. These decades were influential in a variety of ways, impacting the American people, history, and culture in unimaginable ways. The first term focuses upon the 1860s, with the Civil War and its immediate aftermath as the focus. The second term focuses upon the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, and the culture of the 1960s. The course utilizes a variety of sources, including first-person accounts, literary works, and films set in and influenced by the events of the decade.
History through Film and Literature Honors
While not strictly a United States history course, this course touches on a number of topics in United States history. This semester course examines important people, places, and events in history by looking at accounts of them as they appear in literature and film. Students look at historical accounts, newspaper articles, short stories, poems, and novels, some fictional and some not, to glean an understanding of time and place. They also look at film treatments, some documentaries, some newscasts, and some feature films, to get an appreciation of people, places, and events. Time will be spent exploring the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the sinking of the Titanic, the American Civil War, the Holocaust, and much more.
Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography
Again, while not strictly, American, AP Human Geography gives students a unique perspective on US culture and its place in the world. AP Human Geography is a course designed to prepare students for geographic analysis. Students study the distributions, the processes, and the effects of human populations on the planet. Using problem-solving and decision-making skills, they analyze the following geographic themes: population and migration, urban and rural land use, religion, language, architecture, political and economic development, and globalization. Students take the AP exam in May for college credit.
Houston Academy seniors now take part in the “Alabama Possible” Poverty Simulation. According to “Alabama Possible”:
Alabama is the sixth poorest state in the nation, and nearly 900,000 of our neighbors live below the federal poverty line. The Community Action Poverty Simulation is a unique, interactive experience that helps facilitate understanding of the challenges faced by individuals in our community who are living at or below the poverty level. The simulation increases participants’ understanding of hardships and the emotional toll experienced by impoverished members of our society and the work it takes to achieve self-sufficiency.
This program has served as a meaningful exercise for our seniors as they go out into the wider world.
Other extracurricular opportunities which allow students to engage in authentic civil engagement include:
· Leadership Dothan,
· Boys and Girls State,
· Student Government Association,
· Upper School Disciplinary Committee, and
· Upper School Honor Council.
Houston Academy is particularly proud of the role students play in making day-to-day decisions. We believe that in order to create responsible citizens who embrace democratic principles, those principles must be modeled in school. Therefore, in the last seven years, the Upper School Honor Council was strengthened and reorganized, and an Upper School Disciplinary Committee was formed. These committees make recommendations to the administration when possible violations of the school’s honor code or disciplinary rules occur. Students are elected by peers and faculty to serve on these two committees, and students who violate our community standards must appear in front of them. This has proven to be a powerful system in which community violations are judged by community members. Consequently, HA has experienced a substantial and significant drop in honor and disciplinary offenses. Moreover, students have taken greater ownership of their own community and school.
In order to graduate, all students at Houston Academy must document 40 hours of community service. Additionally, students receive honor cords at graduation for completing 80 hours of service. As mentioned previously, the purpose of community service at Houston Academy is to have our students actively and authentically engage in the community. Raising money is not enough. Collecting money is, in many ways, a passive exercise which does not allow our students to work with real people in our community. That is not to say that we don’t raise money for worthy causes. HA has raised money for the American Cancer Society, the United Way, and the Red Cross, to name but a few organizations. Below are a few examples of recent community service efforts.
In 2017, Houston Academy filled an entire shipping container full of relief supplies and delivered it to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. With the help of a Houston Academy family, the supplies were personally delivered to a part of the island that was in dire need and was not receiving adequate federal or international assistance.
In 2018, Houston Academy organized disaster relief for Holy Nativity Episcopal School in Panama City, FL, which was destroyed by Hurricane Michael. The teachers and students at HA supplied every Holy Nativity teacher with basic supplies, such as staplers, pens, pencils, notebooks, and post-it notes. Those supplies were delivered, personally, to every classroom by members of the school administration.
Each year, HA’s Student Government Association (SGA) participates in their Rescue Christmas Shopping service project. Typically, approximately 50 students shop for Christmas gifts for the Rescue Mission. SGA uses money raised from homecoming, powderpuff and other events to fund this worthy event, providing Christmas presents for homeless children.
|HA alumnus, Ben Nelson, digs|
a well in Nicaragua.
In the last three years, Houston Academy has been an active participant in the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life,” raising thousands of dollars for cancer research. Currently, the school is promoting a “Go Gold!” campaign to help end childhood cancer.
In February of 2018, the preschool students participated in our Water Service Project. Each class participated in lessons/activities about water and the importance of clean water. Each Friday in February the preschoolers were able to purchase popsicles to help raise money to send to Nicaragua for water filters. Two of HA’s own Upper School students went on this mission trip with Westgate Church of Christ to Nicaragua during Spring Break.
Hits for Heroes
The entire school annually contributes to and works for our “Hits for Heroes” baseball tournament fundraiser. This fundraiser began at Houston Academy, and has spread across the state of Alabama and the Southeast. High school and college teams across the southeast play games, the proceeds of which go to support our veterans and active duty military. Last year, in partnership with the USO, Houston Academy sent, literally, hundreds of care packages to our deployed troops. Additionally, as a separate service, our children write letters to soldiers.
Wiregrass Children’s Home/Alabama Baptist Children’s Home
The purpose of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries is to protect, nurture, and restore children and families through service. This purpose is met by providing homes for children, professional counseling, educational services and family assistance. Our students work with these children, directly, playing games, tutoring, and providing needed services, as requested by the organization.
Harbor House serves the poor, needy and homeless residents of Dothan by meeting their physical needs. These needs are met through programs such as Celebrate Recovery, Saturday meals, Wednesday night church services, Adopt-a-Block outreach, job placement and mentoring services.
The Enable Ministry meets once a month at the recreation outreach center of Calvary Baptist Church. Through this ministry, students with different learning and social disabilities have the opportunity to play, eat, and do arts/crafts with a volunteer.
Vaughn-Blumberg/Miracle League of Dothan
The mission of Vaughn-Blumberg Services (VBS), a 501 (c) 3 non-profit agency, is to provide or to assist in securing the provision of comprehensive services for people with intellectual disabilities that reside in Houston County as well as assist in facilitating their participation in society to the fullest extent of their individual capabilities. People receiving services are 18 years of age or older and are diagnosed as having an intellectual disability. VBS also provides early intervention services for infants/toddlers between birth to three years of age and adolescents with intellectual disabilities identified as eligible and determined appropriate for available program services. VBS provides services to approximately 200 Houston County adults with intellectual disabilities and 22 children.
Miracle field was designed for physically disabled children to have the opportunity to play in a baseball game. Our students can help out by being a “buddy” to one of the players competing in the game and assisting them during the game. Games start in March and go until May.
The Wiregrass Humane Society (Heart)
The Wiregrass Humane Society is an animal rescue facility located in Dothan. When the Dothan Animal Control officers pick up a stray animal, that animal has 20 days to get picked up by its owner or it gets euthanized. The Human Society’s goal is to save as many of those animals as possible and give them a new home. Students help by volunteering at the Humane Society with tasks such as walking dogs, giving baths to dogs, playing with cats and dogs, and much more.
Wiregrass Habitat for Humanity
The Wiregrass Habitat for Humanity serves four counties: Dale, Henry, Houston, and Geneva. Homes built by Wiregrass HFH and sold to homeowners typically between $45,000 and $75,000. Students at Houston Academy take part in construction projects, project support, and landscaping.
Houston Academy fully embraces its role in developing civic-minded leaders of tomorrow. We believe that our students leave Houston Academy equipped to be active participants in our society with a full knowledge and understanding of our history, traditions, values, and responsibilities. Our program is far from perfect, but it is also not stagnant. We are constantly evolving in this arena to meet the demands of this complicated, 21st century world our children will enter.