Maconaquah High School teacher named Indiana history teacher of the year

August 13 — BUNKER HILL — Students in Kari Catanzaro’s American History class watch war movies.

The objective?

Determine “what is Hollywood and what is real”.

Students learn to research using primary sources—materials produced during the historical period being studied—such as Civil War-era newspapers.

Research will lead students to learn, for example, that Mel Gibson‘s character Benjamin Martin in “The Patriot” is actually a composite character made up of at least four different Revolutionary War characters.

Catanzaro calls this “making history,” and it’s one of the primary ways the teacher engages students in content.

“History is boring if you don’t make it,” she said. “You can always Google the facts and dates.”

Students in her dual-credit United States History class at Maconaquah High School choose a Civil War film to watch and analyze for their final project. “Voice and Choice” is another way Catanzaro keeps his students engaged.

“I’ve never had a kid who didn’t do the project,” she said.

The lesson plan is award-winning.

Catanzaro was named Indiana History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute. The institute is a nonprofit organization that promotes American history through education.

“I think I read it (e-mail) seven times to make sure it was what I thought,” Catanzaro said.

Catanzaro is one of 53 teachers of the year. Gilder Lehrman names one for each state, plus one from the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools, and one from U.S. territories.

“It really touched me,” she said. “That’s when I realized it was a big deal.”

Catanzaro has been at Maconaquah his entire 28-year career. She started in middle school, teaching Spanish for the first 14 years.

Catanzaro eventually moved to high school where she teaches United States history, Indiana history, and ethnic studies.

“It’s my dream job,” she said. “I love it.”

Matthew Barnett, a history teacher at Maconaquah Middle School, nominated Catanzaro for the award.

“She does a lot of original stuff,” he said.

Barnett knows a thing or two out-of-the-box lesson plans because his eighth-grade class built a 1700s cannon and learned 1800s survival skills by carving wood with a lathe and spinning wool.

“His lesson was so creative, and it went beyond an ordinary lesson,” Barnett said of Catanzaro’s Civil War film analysis project.

“She finds these resourceful and innovative ways to get kids interested in content,” added Jennifer Lorona, who also teaches at Maconaquah High School. “She loves those light bulb moments with the kids.”

Like speakeasy Catanzaro does when covering the Prohibition era. She dresses up as a boy, the students drink dummy cocktails and a code word is required to enter the classroom.

Hint: it’s still “Boiler up”. Catanzaro is a huge Purdue fan.

“If they can act on the period, I think that really resonates with them,” Lorona said. “She kind of opened my eyes to what you can do in a classroom.”

This makes Catanzaro a popular teacher among students. High school principal Justin Myers said it was as much Catanzaro as the estate that drew kids to his classes.

“She’s kind of magnetic and has this positive energy in her,” he said. “These are the kind of people you want on your bus.”

Catanzaro has been steeped in history for as long as she can remember. She grew up on the family farm in 1848. In fourth grade, she knew she wanted to be a teacher.

“I lived in a world where history was still happening,” Catanzaro said.

Genealogy is a real passion. She traced one side of her family back to the 1400s. One of her ancestors walked with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman. Known as Sherman’s March to the Sea, the military offensive contributed to the eventual defeat of the Confederacy.

Catanzaro loves teaching the 1960s, but his favorite time period is changing. The history classes she took as a student only date back to the Vietnam War. She had to learn the last decades herself.

“It makes you realize how we got here,” Catanzaro said.

Current events make the class interesting. Catanzaro said students are more interested in Watergate now because of President Donald Trump’s impeachments. The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial has sparked new interest in Senate hearings.

And of course, all current events are tied to the story in some way.

“It’s been easy to teach the last few years,” Catanzaro said.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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