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Here's how York County teachers are handling the Trump impeachment trial

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Senior Delaney Jess makes a point during an AP government class at Red Lion High School Monday, January 27, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

As a high school history teacher, Megan Axe's priority is to use lessons from the past to educate students about the present — with the end goal to mold independent minds to form their own opinions.

The Trump impeachment trial, which continues this week, is a perfect example, according to York County educators who are using the historical event as a teaching moment for high school students. 

"The only way to form an opinion or ask questions is to have historical knowledge from the past," Axe said. "We're not trying in any way to give a very liberal or conservative opinion."

Axe, the social studies department head at Red Lion Area Senior High School, said current events are heavily emphasized in the classroom, whether it be taught through homework assignments or lectures in class. 

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Garrett Bull teaches an AP government class at Red Lion High School Monday, January 27, 2020. The room is decorated with local and national political signs. Bill Kalina photo

In the case of the Trump impeachment trial, Axe said teachers at Red Lion use examples from American history to help students contextualize modern events and form their own opinions.

Donald Trump is the third president to be impeached, following Bill Clinton in 1998 and Andrew Johnson in 1868. After a majority vote from the House to impeach Trump in December, the case moved to the Senate, which is tasked with deciding if the president will be removed from office.

Axe, who teaches a section of freshman honors history and an advanced placement course on American history this school year, said her students have been very engaged and interested in learning about the impeachment process. 

Questions on how the impeachment procedure works, the constitutionality of the articles of impeachment and how the inquiry moves from the House to the Senate have all been integral in lectures at Red Lion, Axe said.

Senior Cassidy Crowe talks about the impeachment process with teacher Garrett Bull during an AP government class at Red Lion High School Monday, January 27, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

With high school students close to becoming voting citizens, she said it's essential for them to understand these complicated processes and be hypercritical of where they get their information.

More:York County high school students could win for registering student voters

"Even adults don't understand what's occurring," Axe said. "It's a teachable moment in American history. We want to make sure that teachable moment is presented in a productive way so that they can actually learn from it." 

At Northeastern High School, social studies teachers Amande Sodl and Ryan Middleton said their students got interested in learning about the impeachment based on videos and memes they saw on social media platforms — which might promote incorrect information.

Sodl said to combat this, teaching media literacy is taken very seriously at Northeastern.

Mara D'Aquila reads in front of government-related student artwork in Garrett Bull's AP government class at Red Lion High School Monday, January 27, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

"Allowing students to practice and know fact versus opinion is so important," Sodl said.

Sodl, the social studies department leader at Northeastern, teaches global studies and an advanced placement human geography course — though that doesn't stop her from introducing American current events into her lectures.

"We're not spending lessons on the impeachment process, but we look at it like, 'What happens if there's a change in leadership and how does it affect the rest of the world?'" Sodl said as an example.

Garrett Bull teaches an AP government class at Red Lion High School Monday, January 27, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

In Middleton's classroom, he chooses to emphasize the idea of passing on knowledge to help those who are less educated and unaware of current events.

"When you have people around you that are less educated, how do you help those people get to the truth?" he said. "I want (the students) to be a source of knowledge for people with questions." 

With several students in Northeastern already eligible to vote in the next election, Middleton said teaching current events gives students the power to be educated about how these complex processes work.

"Impeachment is something we would have been talking about anyway," Sodl said. "It's a teachable moment."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.