Chautauqua events allow American Studies students to display debate and research skills
At least 150 American Studies students at McHenry East and McHenry West staged Chautauqua events in November at each school that featured students taking on notable characters from past and present to debate current issues such as gun control and immigration.
The McHenry East Chautauqua took place Nov. 29-30 while the McHenry West event was held Nov. 15-16. In both events, students took on famous personas, researched topics and debated policy recommendations.
They also presented entertaining skits in between debates that featured students performing songs and dances. At both schools, other classes were invited to watch during the two-day event.
A former American Studies history teacher Dianne Flint came up with the idea to use Chautauqua as a name for the project since historically the term was used to describe popular meeting events throughout the United States in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The term itself is Native American and implies a meeting of minds, said Ashley Diedrich, an American Studies English teacher at West Campus.
Diedrich, along with Brittany Probst, American Studies English, Jon Niemic, American Studies history, and Daniel Glick, American Studies history, organized the West Campus Chautauqua event. At East Campus, American Studies English teacher Marla Currie and Abigail Bilinski, American Studies history teacher, presented the event.
Visitors at West Campus may have seen students portraying John Lennon and Donald Trump debating immigration with J. Edgar Hoover and Nancy Drew, or Frank Sinatra and Clint Eastwood debating gun control with Dwight D. Eisenhower and Sacagawea.
Visitors at East Campus may have seen Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder talking about legalizing marijuana and Walt Disney and Michelle Obama discussing minimum wage.
Other issues discussed over the two-day Chautauqua include maternity and paternity rights, abortion, business rights and privacy rights, and police body cameras.
American Studies students had to not only research the topic but also research their character to find out how that person may have felt about a particular issue. Students not only take on their character’s personality but dress up as well.
“They really have to know their character,” Probst said.
Teachers said they were proud of the work that went into Chautauqua. In addition to working on research skills, Chautauqua allows students a chance to learn about how to present different points of view in a calm and rational way.
“We need to teach our students how to properly engage with each other,”
At East, students who participated were:
Students who participated at West Campus were:
Litzy Hernandez- Zarate
Brianna Longines Reyes
Gisselle Martinez- Zapata
Ray (Kenneth) Zulman