APUSH department reaches out to rural schools

Teacher Alexander Sawyer wholeheartedly fueled this outreach among his students and others across the country in remote areas.

The Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) Department, starting with teacher Alex Sawyer, is reaching out to school systems in rural areas around the country. When Sawyer made this communication available to his classes, the majority of students were interested in participating.

Sawyer began by sending out a message through the APUSH Facebook group he’s part of asking about schools in rural areas interested in communicating with Decatur APUSH students.

On Sept. 12 and 13, Sawyer’s students filled out a handout with questions Sawyer had provided. The handouts will serve as letters, which Sawyer decided was the best way of communicating with the students in rural areas. The handout contained questions asking about various hobbies, interests, opinions and views pertaining to each student. Questions included, “What is life like where you live?” “What is your perception about people who live in big cities/small towns” and, “How do you feel about the nations’ political leadership at this time?”

“Basically, the idea is that kids get more of an understanding of other people who are different than them and who are still kind and good people,” Sawyer said. “[They] just have a different world view.”

Sawyer views Decatur as a bubble, one that has diversity of race and gender, but is nevertheless sheltered from other lifestyles and lacks in diversity of opinion.

“It’s just hard for kids who live here to interact with anybody who’s from a different upbringing…We have this huge divide in our country where people who live in the city—their life is so different than people that live in the country,” Sawyer added. “They have different opportunities [and] different hopes for the future than we do.”

Sawyer believes the initiative of reaching out to these schools and building relationships is necessary.  Doing this, students look at different viewpoints other than the one we see reflected all over Decatur.

“People are just like, ‘Oh, you’re racist; that’s why you feel that way,’ and I used to be that way too. I used to think that was why people supported Trump: because they were just racist,” Sawyer said, ”which might be a lot of it, but at the same time, there are other reasons too.”

Sawyer grew up Great Falls, South Carolina. His experience with the divide and difference of rural and urban areas he came to know when he moved to Atlanta made him feel that the outreach to each of these schools is necessary.

“When I go back home, I always feel kind of like the people there I can’t really talk to or connect with,” Sawyer said. “I don’t know why that is, and I just wish we could understand each other without immediately labeling somebody as dumb or a racist, which unfortunately has happened in our political discourse.”

Teachers who replied to the Facebook post Sawyer posted in the APUSH teachers group teach at schools ranging across the country. Infographic by Alexis Siegler.

The schools Sawyer has decided to reach out are all immensely different than Decatur. One school is in Bloomfield, New Mexico which is near the Colorado border. Another is in Glide, Oregon. Additional schools are in Greeley, Nebraska and Salisbury, Missouri, both being farming communities. The last school reached out to is near Decatur in Cherokee County, Georgia. Though Cherokee County is only 30 miles away from Decatur, the two areas couldn’t have less in common. Not only is Cherokee County much more remote than Decatur, but all of these schools are located in areas considered rural. Many students live on huge acreage and are hours away from grocery stores as well as malls and well-known areas. Each town will have considerably less racial diversity than Decatur has and for the most part an opposing viewpoint than that of which you would see in a city.

“They are probably going to be way more conservative,” Sawyer said, “they’re going to not have any diversity [and] they’re probably going to be all white except for New Mexico.”

Among his high hopes for this outreach, Sawyer’s goals are that students can find a specific person they are interested in communicating with, who may be someone they strongly disagree or have many shared commonalities with. Ultimately, though, he wants his students to have a better understanding of various viewpoints and lifestyles around the country that they gain from the outreach.

“I hope that [APUSH students in Decatur] have a better understanding of kids that live in the country,” Sawyer said, “because it’s easy for us to just label them and say, ‘Oh they’re just simple-minded, stupid people,’ which a lot of people here do.”

Fellow APUSH teacher Javier Fernandez will soon follow Alex Sawyer’s lead. Because of this, both APUSH teachers need to locate additional schools to reach out to, which they will most likely do after fall break.

“I’m going to get it started and see kind of how it goes,” Sawyer said. “[There are] only so many kids in these five schools because they’re so small. One of the [K-12] school[’s]…whole student population was 200.”

Schools Decatur has already reached out to are apprehensive about the way Decatur students will interact with them.

“The New Mexico [APUSH] teacher…said her kids are real nervous because they’re worried that we’re going to think that they’re dumb and simple-minded people and stuff like that,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer reassured the teacher that this was not what the outreach was about. Instead, students would be practicing the opposite and building “bridges of understanding.”

On the week of Sept. 10, students not only in Sawyer’s classroom but in APUSH classes in five various schools in remote areas around the country sit down to write each other letters. Through each of these letters a student gains insight on a completely separate lifestyle and opinions than they see in their own community.