Opening Students' Eyes

Profile of a Jesuit Educator
Modeling Ignatian Pedagogy

Merging Disciplines, Master Teachers Rupertus and Conners
Help Open Students’ Eyes to Different Worlds

Twenty five years ago, two colleagues had an idea: use history and literature together to offer a study of American ideas and culture. The result, American Studies, taught by Dr. Chris Rupertus P ’24, ’26 and Mr. Bill Conners ’80 proved to become one of the best loved courses for students, with an impact felt years after they left the school.

“It was a lot of work and our students stepped up,” Conners said of the class. “I think they appreciated the atmosphere, the unique nature of the course. For most of the life of the course, we were together for 80 minutes every day and that really helped to create a community.”

The course took on different aspects of American history and examined literature (novels, short stories, essays) and primary-source documents connected to each topic or era. For example, the examination of the women’s movement would include the reading of the Declaration of Sentiments from the Seneca Falls Convention plus literary works such as The Awakening and “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

“We wanted to be able to take deeper dives into issues that are recurring throughout American history,” says Dr. Rupertus. “It was less about what to think and more about how to engage in critical cultural issues.”

The students were typically students who were not planning on taking the AP courses as juniors and seniors. The teachers, both masters at their craft, played off of each other and encouraged the students to engage with the works. 

“The students saw us collaborate in real time, make adjustments on the fly based on what was said by the other,” Dr. Rupertus says. “I think we were able to model intellectual humility. We were authorities on some aspects but not others. We were willing to learn right alongside them.”

“Some of these issues can be sensitive to discuss in class but we didn’t shy away from that,” Conners says. “I took my cues from Chris and that allowed us to have good, honest conversations.”

Alumni who took the class continue to be shaped by it and have fond memories of their time in it.

“It was my favorite and most impactful class among many at Mother Prep, mostly because of the very deep and unique dives we took in the history that shaped our country and the opportunity we had as students to do our own exploring and asking,” says Alonzo Jones ’03. “In its very unique way, it brought us closer together as a class because we knew not everyone was sharing that experience. I’m forever grateful for Dr. Rupertus and Mr. Conners; they changed the way I look at and process history and literature.”

Mike Conaboy ’08 agreed. “American Studies was the best experience I had as a student at the Prep,” he says. “I think most students (myself included) saw English and History as two separate, unconnected areas–however Mr. Conners and Dr. Rupertus showed us how deeply intertwined both were to each other. They brought to life the message that there are always two sides to a story–while history is often remembered through the perspective of the loudest or most powerful voice, it’s important to remember others' lived experiences as well.”
Christian Henry ’07 remembers the first-person experiences that Conners and Rupertus created for the class. “They made their respective areas of content knowledge transcend the pages of our textbooks and novels into our everyday lives,” Henry says. “Spanning from our visit to the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia to our trip to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of New York City, they took what we learned in the classroom and breathed life into something we could experience and remember for a lifetime.”
“I think we must have gone on 10+ field trips throughout the year,” Conaboy remembers. “The environment they fostered in class was so much fun and really brought everything to life. Most memorably, we went up to New York to see the tenements on the Lower East Side and saw how so many people began their lives in America. I live in NYC now, and anytime I am in the Lower East Side, it is the first thing I think about. They gave us so many experiences that opened our eyes to different worlds that can’t always be understood from inside the classroom.”
© Copyright 2020 St. Joseph’s Preparatory School. All Rights Reserved.