Beaverton teacher and student receive national honors
For many students, history class is filled with flipping through endless pages in a book and learning about different events without doing much else.
This can lead to some fleeing for math and science classes instead, but Meadow Park Middle School teacher Mike Lebsock is teaching his humanities classes in an interactive way — and getting some national attention for it.
Last month, Lebsock was selected as the 2020 Most Outstanding Teacher of American History by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.
The DAR cited Lebsock's teaching experience and passion for instilling understanding and respect for American history while also serving as an educational bridge between teachers and historians at the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area in Virginia.
"Stunned," recalled Lebsock about the moment he found out about the honor. "When I got the phone call … it's like the words just sort of ran over my head. It took a few seconds to sort of hit me what she was saying."
He added, "When you consider how big the DAR is and the people that have been nominated from every single state and beyond, to be selected for that is great."
Lebsock has 34 years of overall teaching experience. For him, middle school is the most exciting level to teach, because students are in a transitionary period but are still eager to learn, he explained.
He mostly looks forward to teaching humanities, history and language arts because the subjects can give kids context to current events.
"Middle school kids in four years get to vote," Lebsock pointed out.
He added, "A lot of what they are getting are soundbytes of things without really asking the harder questions, (such as), 'What does this person really believe in? What direction will this take us?'"
As for how he makes his classes interactive, the Beaverton middle school teacher tries to stay away from worksheets and has his students hold artifacts or perform simulation activities.
Why does he make his classes interactive?
Lebsock gives credit to the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area. The outdoor "living history" museum is also a private foundation that presents hands-on activities and guided tours of the original 18th-century buildings.
After working at the museum for a couple of summers, Lebsock remembers feeling dumbfounded by the way history was presented to visitors in the area.
"It's like being brought into a time machine, and all of a sudden you're just in that period of time, and you start understanding things from a whole different perspective," he explained. "So, my goal has always been to try to engage students in content which, a lot of times they see as irrelevant, especially because I've taught a lot of immigrant kids or kids who were born out of the state who really feel no connection."
But Lebsock says his action-based teaching has been hard to keep up during the coronavirus pandemic.
"I am looking at them on a Zoom meeting, and kids that normally are pretty excitable in the classroom (are) just staring, and they just lost contact," he said. "I don't even know that they realized how valuable that social environment was."
The COVID-19 crisis also made it difficult for Lebsock to be honored by the DAR. In mid-June, he was set to appear on stage at the organization's headquarters in Washington, D.C., before 3,000 members at the annual conference. Due to the virus, the conference was canceled and reorganized into an online event.
But Lebsock isn't the only person inside of the Beaverton School District to be honored this year.
Seventeen-year-old Adam Jones is a rising senior at Westview High School. He has been selected as the 2020 most outstanding youth volunteer for veterans by the DAR.
For Jones' Eagle Scout Project, he beautified a busy Beaverton street corner off Highway 217 and Southwest Walker Road that had a Fallen Hero Memorial honoring U.S. Army solider John Pelham, who died in Afghanistan.
In a press release by the organization on Thursday, July 2, the DAR described the project as a "beautiful memorial (that) now draws greater positive attention and honors the memory of all veterans."
As for Jones, he didn't even know he won the state honor, let alone the national award, he recalled.
"Actually, completing the project was more than enough of a reward, but seeing that I got recognized and appreciated on that level was just kind of a nice bonus," Jones said.
Jones says it took him about a year to plan out the project, with help from the Pelham family along with his own.
The Westview student also has a personal connection with the family.
"My older brother played soccer with the fallen soldier's younger brother," Jones said.
Once Jones received approval from Washington County officials to build the memorial and $1,000 worth of donated materials, it took two days to build the memorial.
Jones hopes his project inspires kids to also honor the veterans in their community, because "our veterans have made such a big sacrifice defending our country, our freedom and our rights," he said. "It's important to make sure that they're appreciated and that they know that they have our respect."
Lebsock says he's excited Jones, a student within his district, is also being recognized by the DAR at a national level.
"One person can make a difference, if it's in your heart to do," he said. "It was something he really felt was important. I mean, I'm sure he hit roadblocks along the way, but he kept doing it until he got it done. I find that really motivating."
Minus the pomp and fanfare of the actual DAR conference, the organization said in a statement that "both Mike and Adam were still graciously acknowledged and thanked for their incredible achievements."
The press release added that it's a rare occasion in DAR for two national awards to be given to recipients from the same state, let alone the same school district.
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