Program Updates: Social Studies

8th Grade

This year’s Change the World Project in eighth grade was an exciting and new twist compared to past years. Instead of eight to ten different projects, all eighth grade students worked on one project. This  year’s project was inspired by the Kongsberger Ski Club. This club stewards the Cabin Creek Nordic Ski Area, which Explorer West has used for several years in teaching cross country skiing to seventh and eighth graders. The Kongsberger Ski Club has been trying to expand the trail system to accommodate an increase in users, and they first proposed the expansion of trails fourteen years ago. In studying what needs to be done, we learned that any move forward with such a project must first have the US Forest Service conduct a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) study on the impact of trail expansion. With this in mind, we divided up the responsibility of writing letters to a wide variety of audiences.

One student wrote to the District Ranger with the US Forest Service in Cle Elum, who is in charge of initiating a NEPA study. Two other students wrote to the senior leaders of the US National Forest Service, which operates within the US Department of Agriculture. Four students wrote to our two US representatives (District 7 and District 9) and our two US senators, asking for funding to be allocated in future budgets for trail expansion. All other students reached out to a wide variety of cross country and winter outdoor education organizations and companies to urge them to also contact the District Ranger in Cle Elum, asking for a NEPA study to begin. All students also engaged with our local community.

On May 10, eighth graders talked with the public in Lincoln Park, the Alaska Junction, the Admiral Junction, and Alki about the need for more cross country trails at Cabin Creek Nordic Ski Area. In total, students were able to get 193 additional names of people who agreed with our project. We then sent a subsequent letter to the District Ranger, letting him know that a wide range of the public also believes this is a necessary project.

We’re hopeful that our eighth graders’ work will help motivate the US Forest Service to act and begin a NEPA study. Well done, eighth graders!


7th Grade

Seventh grade students recently began a unit on Washington State history after finishing up their research project on chosen landmark Supreme Court cases. Students chose a wide variety of cases including West Virginia State Board v. Barnette, which established the precedent that no public school should require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which set the precedent that no US state or territory can deny two people of the same gender to marry. Students also got their first taste of a relatively high-stakes presentation, which they rocked.

It is always impressive to see the dramatic growth of writing skills in seventh grade. This year, students have answered six essential questions in either paragraphs or mini-essays for Challenge. All students have seen significant growth. The number of students choosing Challenge is also off the charts. A total of sixty-eight mini-essays have been written by seventh graders this year. These skills will continue to be honed next year in eighth grade. Great work, seventh graders!


6th Grade

Do you believe in God or a higher power? Your sixth grader may have asked you this question a few weeks ago as we began our exploration into the question of how and why the concept of “religion” emerged in the ancient world. In class we have been working with the polytheistic worldview of the Mesopotamians, Romans, and Greeks; monotheism as viewed through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; and the wisdom of Buddhist and Confucianist bodies of thought in order to explore how religions can be compared and how spiritual thought has evolved over the ages. This week students are laying the groundwork for their final formal expository paragraph of the year: comparing and contrasting two of these religions. To finish the year we will be discussing the examples of discrimination and persecution of religious groups including the Christians in Emperor Nero’s Rome and the Jews in Nazi Germany. To learn about the surprising connections between the Nazis and American political ideology of the early 20th century I highly recommend Isabel Wilkerson’s illuminating book, Caste. There is both an adult and a young adult version – a terrific summer read for the whole family!