Occidental College Graduate Jonathan Wenn Saluted as Disney American Teacher Award Honoree
Jonathan Wenn, a 1996 Occidental College graduate now teaching world history at Glendale’s Roosevelt Middle School, was one of 35 honorees saluted at Disney’s annual American Teacher Awards held Nov. 10 at CBS Studios in Hollywood. Wenn, who also earned his master’s in teaching from Oxy this year, was chosen from a national pool of 20,000 teachers culled from 111,000 nominations.
The ceremony is scheduled to air Dec. 13 on the Lifetime cable channel.
To mark his selection as an honoree, Wenn was given a trophy and a commemorative key to Disneyland during a Nov. 9 celebration at the theme park. At the teacher awards ceremony the following day, Ben Wentworth, a science teacher at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, was selected as the 2001 teacher of the year.
Nominees represented elementary, middle school and high school educators in the areas of math/sciences, the humanities, the arts, special education, team teaching and physical education. Awards totaling more than $500,000 were presented at this year’s ceremony.
Wenn, a La Crescenta resident in his fifth year of teaching, was nominated anonymously for the award. Students, administrators and teachers are allowed to recommend nominees.
Wenn says he teaches history as a vast, interrelated story. He asks students, for example, to determine how labor activist Cesar Chavez would counsel medieval peasants. Wenn attempts to make history relevant by requiring students to alter popular song lyrics to reflect historical ideas. In another assignment, students held a mock trial to decide whether Stanley Williams, co-founder of the Crips gang, should be eligible for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize. Williams, a nominee for the award, is on San Quentin’s death row for the murders of four people in the 1970s. Students decided Williams should be eligible because he writes anti-gang children’s books from prison and promotes the Internet Project for Street Peace, an anti-gang web site.
“The wrong way to teach history would be to show that there’s only one perspective and only one history,” Wenn says. “One of the things the kids get to know is there are better answers and worse answers based on support and evidence. That’s what I try to get them to understand.”
Wenn says he attended the American Teacher Awards on behalf of all educators. “There are a lot of teachers that don’t get recognized and it’s nice to be able to showcase what teachers are doing in a day-in, day-out basis,” he says. “I would like to represent what is happening today in history education.”
For more information on the Disney awards program, go to www.disneylearning.org.