The Whitman High School Education Foundation spotlighted AP Language teacher Ryan Derenberger for his presidential election project and thanked building services staff at its annual event March 15.
This is the fifth year of the nonprofit group’s event, which was held at the Bethesda Hyatt. In past years, the Foundation has recognized former principal Alan Goodwin, teachers whose Whitman careers spanned 30 or more years, coaches and the counseling department.
“It’s a really nice opportunity for everyone in the Whitman community to gather and celebrate Whitman,” Foundation president Alice Gallin-Dwyer said.
This year, to support principal Robby Dodd’s emphasis on unconventional teaching, the Foundation honored Derenberger’s creativity in teaching, particularly in his presidential election project, which he piloted during his second year at Whitman in 2016.
For the project, each class breaks into two groups—media teams and campaign teams—and works together to simulate a presidential election, including media coverage, social media platforms, town halls and debates. Over the course of second quarter, the project builds to a primary election, then a final, general election between two remaining candidates. Throughout the assignment, students build campaign websites and social media platforms, and they navigate ‘scandals’ that the media team assigns to candidates. Students also write and rhetorically analyze their own speeches, learning how to formulate a convincing argument.
“I’m excited and honored, and genuinely looking forward to continuing the project in the future,” Derenberger said.
Derenberger wants his students to understand how politics function. He aims to make classroom assignments more relatable to students, and his innovation—with contributions from other AP Lang teachers over the years—has helped students understand the intricacies of politics and the importance of rhetoric in the real world.
“It used a lot of skills we had learned throughout the year,” junior Hannah Donner said. “You didn’t think you were doing rhetorical analysis while you were doing it—it was really well thought out in that respect.”
The Foundation also honored the building services department. During the event Dodd emphasized the staff’s contributions to the school and thanked them for all they do for Whitman.
“I feel good,” staff member Maria Meza said. “I like working with the staff, I like the kids, my supervisor, my co-workers. I like working here.”
Due to time constraints, the Foundation wasn’t able to highlight anyone else’s accomplishments this year, but they were happy to honor Derenberger and, of course, the building services staff.
“They do important work for the school,” Gallin-Dwyer said. “They’re the unsung heroes who are not thanked and appreciated enough.”