Meridian High’s Steve Lawrence knows his place in history class
Published: June 14, 2012
By KIE RELYEA — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Picked as 2012 Washington History Teacher of the Year
LAUREL – The Meridian High School seniors sitting in a circle in Steve Lawrence’s class are talking to each other about what they believe when it comes to God and the afterlife.
The 51-year-old Lawrence has been named the 2012 Washington History Teacher of the Year and the discussion – fed by questions from Lawrence – shows the approach that has earned him the honor.
A student who is Sikh talks, as does one who’s a Mormon. Also adding to the discussion is a student who’s a non-believer and a few who believe deeply in God and Jesus. Some speak haltingly as they search for words, others eloquently on what can be a charged topic.
The point of having such discussions, Lawrence tells this advanced placement government class, is to show the students that they can talk through controversial matters civilly.
Or, as he said to them, “to try to get you not to be like what we see out in society,” before using the nation’s Founding Fathers as an example of those who worked through tough differences.
“They disagreed on so much stuff,” he told the students, but they talked it out and they compromised.
For Lawrence, it’s important that his students see the big picture, learn outside their textbooks, find the connections between past and present and their place in it all.
“Why does that matter to anything in my life?” he said of what he keeps in the forefront of his approach to reaching his students. “Students say that a lot: ‘Why is this important?’ ”
His Washington History Teacher of the Year award is from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Lawrence also is in the running for National History Teacher of the Year.
“It’s a nice honor. I’m appreciative,” said Lawrence, who has been teaching at Meridian High School since 1994.
He teaches U.S. history and government, AP U.S. government, current issues, law and society, and comparative religion.
Lawrence also coaches Meridian’s mock trial and girls’ golf teams as well as serving as the adviser for the Teen Court club.
“He deserves the recognition,” said Meridian High School Principal James Everett, who nominated Lawrence for the award.
“It’s no surprise for us. We’ve known for a while that he’s outstanding,” Everett added. “It’s very clear when you talk to students or you see him engaging (with students), he is more than their teacher. He is an advocate for those students.”
The state award is co-sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The History Channel, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. This year’s award honors middle and high school teachers.
Lawrence said his interest has primarily been in government and politics, and history’s impact on politics. He also looks at history through music.
“I like to look at history from a different angle than what a textbook does,” he said.
Lawrence will be able to delve into his love of music this summer as one of 80 teachers nationwide to be selected as a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar. He will take part in a workshop that focuses on the music, history and culture of the Mississippi Delta.
As a teacher, Lawrence has helped students collect oral histories of alumni, created a local history website, created a mock trial on Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb, developed town hall meetings on the American Revolution and the Civil War, and created a mock Constitutional Convention.
He also has developed curriculum on 20th century U.S. cultural history, with a focus on music, art, film and sports.
As for how he makes history matter to students, Lawrence starts by saying that “energy and excitement is contagious.”
“If you demonstrate an excitement about how history matters and the importance of being involved in what’s going on in our country, that will be contagious. Kids will pick up on that energy.
“Another part is, I involve the kids a lot. They participate in trying to make change,” he said. “We, this year, participated in a Capitol Classroom where students worked with a lobbyist in Olympia to try to help legislation, so they were directly involved in the process. Anything like that helps.”