PICTURED ABOVE // Ward’s Biggest Fans: Cothren and her Contemporary American Literature students listen to author Jesmyn Ward speak at Bishop Dunne. Photo provided by Claire Cothren.
She signs out at the Upper School office, climbs into her car with several of her classmates and heads to Valley View Mall in the middle of the school day to see “The Post”. She gets curious stares from security officers and other moviegoers since it’s unusual to see high school students at 1:10 p.m. at the movie theater. But she is not simply ditching class— she’s going to it.
Several Hockaday Upper School teachers have used outside venues to bolster students’ classroom learning. Students have attended movies, literature festivals and tours around Dallas to enhance their learning experience.
Contemporary American Literature
Upper School English teacher Claire Cothren, who teaches Contemporary American Literature, heard that author Jesmyn Ward was visiting Dallas to speak at the Bishop Dunne Literary Festival. Her class had read “Salvage the Bones,” written by Ward and went to go hear him speak on April 16.
“I couldn’t believe she was coming here and speaking about “Salvage the Bones,” which is not her newest novel. But the timing was perfect,” Cothren said.
Cothren believes that presenting her class with the opportunity to hear renowned authors speak is beneficial.
“You can get a sense for the process, and students can get real-time answers to their questions,” Cothren said. “It’s inspirational for other aspiring writers and adds deeper meaning to the content.”
She hopes that this trip will enrich the material that her students create.
“I’m having my students write a paper using secondary topics, and one of the sources they can incorporate is information from this talk,” Cothren said.
Senior Shreya Gunukula used one of Ward’s quotes in her paper.
“I quoted Ward saying, ‘I wrote this book so people can feel for each other’ in my paper because I felt like it gave me insight into why her literature is important,” Gunukula said.
African American History
Upper School history teacher Steve Kramer took his African American History class to see “Black Panther”, a movie renowned for its inclusivity due to having an almost all-black cast.
He believes that “Black Panther” is an important film because of its diversity.
“There aren’t a lot of mainstream films that are directed by African American directors, and that have a portrayal of African American characters as the leaders of a society, even if it is mythological,” Kramer said.
Gunukula, also a member of the African American history class, thought the movie was insightful and fun, yet brought serious discussions to the table.
“The movie was a fun talking point in class for often tough reading material, but it also gave us an important understanding of African culture,” Gunukula said.
Though he’s taken his history classes to see historical films before, he still thinks its essential to have classes that span a multitude of topics and to go see a film if relevant.
“I thought it was a worthwhile trip, it was a nice break,” Kramer said.
JFK Assassination Trip
Though not directly related to what his U.S. history class was studying, Upper School history teacher Lucio Benedetto organized a trip for all students to go on a John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theory tour. It originally started as a way for the Hockaday boarders to learn more about Dallas history, but he opened it up to the Upper School due to wide interest in JFK’s assassination.
“We also got a historical point of view, from talking about the different conspiracy theories that might have a possible justification and putting them into historical context,” Benedetto said.
Benedetto has a personal interest in the JFK assassination and dedicates time to the topic in his U.S. history class. But he’s noticed that in the last few years, he’s seen an uptick in interest in the whole concept behind conspiracy theories.
“Students were excited to be able to go on a trip and actually be on the ground and talk about these things,” Benedetto said. “It was pretty exciting to talk about it in the abstract.”
Other faculty members were present on the trip. Upper School history teacher Kathryn Hodgkinson, International Program Coordinator Gary Stollar and Upper School ceramics teacher Kevin Brady added their own knowledge on the topic during the tour.
“One teacher talked about forensics, another gave insight on the mafia and Cuban connections and another talked about the history of Dallas in the ‘60s,” Benedetto said.
Benedetto is interested in organizing a similar trip in the future, but maybe about a different topic.
“I would like to involve different people and have different emphases,” Benedetto said. “This trip provided a different perspective, and all students really enjoyed it. There was even a wait list.”
Story by Ponette Kim