CHS social studies department slays school spirit


By Sara Heimlich, Editor-In-Chief

When it comes to the Churchill spirit, there’s no department that does “Bulldog Pride” better than the social studies department.

Throughout the years, the social studies department has developed many traditions and continues to create new ones aimed at fostering a sense of school spirit and unity across their courses.

“Spirit has always been a problem at Churchill since I’ve been here,” said AP Human Geography and Honors U.S. History teacher Adam Field, who has been teaching at CHS for 17 years.  “We’re just trying to do our small part in increasing pride amongst students and teachers about attending Churchill. We love working here and want to show that.”

Some of the social studies teachers took their search for a unique way to display school colors to the Internet and decided to order golf pants and skirts—blue and white, of course—to show their bulldog pride.

Once a month, members of the department sport the colorful pants, often before pep rallies or rival sports games.

“The students love it when we wear our spirit wear,” said AP Human Geography and AP U.S. History teacher Nicole Van Tassell, who taught at Watkins Mill High School before coming to  CHS five years ago.  “I came from a school that was very spirited. All students and staff participated. I really tried to bring that with me.”

Before holiday breaks, the department also organizes a week of dress-up days—their personal spirit week. Costumes include elves, angels and American apparel.

“Watching teachers reflect the Churchill spirit is really awesome because it makes students want to be as passionate about the school,” senior Shayna Gutridge said. “It kind of livens up the day seeing teachers show school spirit. Plus it makes teachers more humane and even a laugh or smile once during a class period can change a day so much.”

The social studies department hopes to multiply this effect on the rest of the faculty and student body and wants to see an overall increase in school spirit as a result.

“I wish it spilled into the rest of our staff [in other departments],” Nicole Van Tassell said. “We get so many comments from them but they can do it too. I don’t want the outside looking in saying we’re a clique or no one else can do this.”

The AP Human Geography team, made up of Nicole Van Tassell and Field, have also taken it upon themselves to use their classrooms and their subject as a way of promoting cultural pride in the hallways—more specifically, on the ceilings in the hallways.

At the end of the year, AP Human Geography students participate in a contest in which they choose a country and display information about it, using knowledge from each unit they’ve studied. After they created an original design, all class periods within the course then voted on their six favorites. The winning teams were able to paint their design onto ceiling tiles, which are then installed throughout the social studies hallway.

Aside from dress up days and course-specific activities, the department uses each week to highlight a different student as “stellar student of the week.” They use their newly-established Twitter account, @wchs_socstu, and the Daily Dose as a way of getting the word out about this student.

According to AP Psychology and Sociology teacher Katelyn Blanken, this recognition is especially important because it allows individual students to receive direct feedback from teachers, despite a large class size.

Each week, a different social studies teacher is in charge of nominating a student who has stood out specifically in that week.

“It helps people become more interested in social studies,” said “stellar student of the week,” junior Elaine Birnbaum, who is currently in AP World History. “For those who already are, they work harder.”

For six years, AP U.S. History and AP Psychology teacher Rodney Van Tassell has been the resource teacher for the social studies department.

“A lot of [our spirit] has to do with Rodney Van Tassell,” Field said. “He’s what the job is all about. If we’re stuck or don’t know how to teach a lesson, or are looking for materials to build projects or tests, and he doesn’t have the answer then and there, he will get us one right away. He does his job wonderfully. That brings us together.”

This collaboration within the department creates consistency in the lessons of teachers, therefore benefitting the student, and helping to alleviate the stress of the teachers.

“We really do team teach,” Blanken said. “You’re not on your own for creating everything for your class. That lightens your load. You have more time to spend time with family or get to know your students in the classroom. Happy people are more productive.”

The relationship between the social studies teachers have been fostered over years of knowing each other and being a part of each other’s lives often attending each other’s weddings and watching families grow.

“I’ve tried hard to be helpful, whether that means sharing a lesson or covering a class,” Rodney Van Tassell said. “These favors have been reciprocated many times and as a result we’ve nurtured an environment built on mutual respect. Many of us have been friends for a long time. It’s exciting to be part of such a big family.”

According to Blanken, teachers also make a point of supporting one another in other school endeavors. When Blanken coaches girls basketball games, other social studies teachers attend, not only to support the students, but to acknowledge the efforts of the teacher and coach.

Lunchtime has also become a time to maintain relationships in a way that’s not necessarily curriculum or school-related.

“It’s apparent when you come into the social studies office at lunchtime that we enjoy each other,” Nicole Van Tassell said. “It’s standing room only. The table is always full. Our department eats together and we talk about anything.”

But in order to keep ties strong, the department works at maintaining their friendships outside of the classroom as well.

On weekends, the department often joins each other for a baseball game or happy hour. During the year, they celebrate monthly birthdays within the department by baking or cooking favorite foods of that person. At the year’s end, the Van Tassells host a barbeque at their house for the entire department.

“I’ve tried to foster an environment where teachers have fun and are willing to help and learn from others,” Rodney Van Tassell said. “We embrace our differences and diversity. We do not always get along. In fact, we argue about a lot of things, but we respect each other. This willingness to see other viewpoints makes us better teachers and better people.”

As a way of pushing each other to do their best, Rodney Van Tassell has established “Bulldog Barks,” where teachers can shout out their colleagues for doing a superb job. At first, it was only within the social studies department, but now it has spread to the rest of the departments. Each Friday, there’s a drawing and the winner is treated to coffee by Rodney Van Tassell.

According to student leadership teacher and student government sponsor Shelley Perrett, when students see teachers participating in activities such as spirit week or wearing school colors on Fridays or attending games, they will be encouraged to do so also.

“My hope is that students see or perceive that the social studies department is unified,” Field said. “I want them to see that we speak with one voice. We love what we teach and we enjoy our jobs. We like to have fun both inside and outside the classroom and hopefully that is something students pick up.”