Ayo Magwood, Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School
February 22, 2013
Street Law, Inc. presented its 2013 Educator of the Year Award to Ayo Magwood, a social studies teacher at Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School in Washington, DC. This award is sponsored by McGraw-Hill Education and presented annually to an individual who educates students in an exceptional manner and uses Street Law materials.
Ayo Magwood (nee Heinegg) teaches U.S. Government, D.C. History, and Senior Thesis to seniors at Cesar Chavez. Ayo is being celebrated for her innovative transformation of the curriculum at Cesar Chavez into a student-centered, concept-based course, in which students develop the knowledge and skills needed to be fair-minded, engaged citizens.
Ayo revolutionized her school’s Senior Thesis class, in which students write a 15-page paper on a public policy of their choice. In her care, the course has evolved to engage students in deeper thinking and motivate them through real-world experiences and controversial issues. Ayo accomplished this by developing a curriculum approach based on "conceptual tensions" and Supreme Court cases. After several years of researching, experimenting, and reflecting on course’s curriculum, she realized that at the root of every public policy issue lies several constitutional, political, or philosophical conceptual tensions—individual rights vs. the common good; state vs. federal powers; equity vs. efficiency; liberty vs. security—and almost all of these debates are the subject of landmark Supreme Court cases. Thus she rewrote the course to address these tensions and court cases. Students went from memorizing and spouting a litany of facts about their public policy topic to using constitutional law to analyze public policy.
This year, Ayo rebuilt the school’s U.S. Government curriculum around the idea of conceptual tensions. In each unit, students first learn the historical, philosophical, and constitutional roots and contexts of each conceptual tension. Then they explore the tension through current Supreme Court cases. Instead of memorizing civic and government facts in a vacuum, students “pick them up” organically.
“I have seen students come alive in her classroom . . . even struggling learners have produced college-level work on complex topics,” said a colleague of Ayo’s work. “In addition to being well-prepared for competitive colleges because of this course, students are also well-prepared for the civil discourse and political discussion required in the adult world because of the interactive nature of Ayo’s pedagogy and curriculum.”
In all of her courses, Ayo strives to create and simulate real-life civic experiences for her students. They participate in simulated congressional hearings, mock Supreme Court deliberations, and civic discussions. They took to the streets before the 2012 presidential elections to register voters and educate them about voting rights, and prior to the local spring elections, they educated District residents about a local ballot initiative and the lack of budget autonomy and congressional representation. Ayo’s students also interviewed and videotaped local advocates and activists and created an "Advocacy & Activism in DC" oral history website.
In March, Ayo's conceptual approach to her curriculum will be featured in a case study on Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy written by education journalist Richard Lee Colvin and published by the American Enterprise Institute's program on American Citizenship and Charter Schools. In addition, Ayo's article, "Using Conceptual Tensions and Supreme Court Cases to Increase Critical Thinking in Government and Civics Classrooms," will be published in NCSS' Social Education this spring.
Ayo is an alumnus of Street Law’s 2012 Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers, and she regularly uses Street Law’s Supreme Court case studies in the classroom. This semester, her class is participating in Street Law’s Legal Diversity Pipeline Program with volunteers from the DC office of Cohen Milstein.
(Reproduced with permission)
Supreme Court Summer Institute for Teachers