Social studies teacher Jamie Karaffa helps students understand the connections between history and their own lives. She and her colleagues at Whittier Middle School in Poland, Maine, organize Whittier History Day, when the entire school comes together to share long-term research projects for National History Day. Students learn the essentials of research, including locating sources and evaluating their reliability, forming thesis statements, finding evidence to support their ideas, and structuring their arguments in a clear, compelling way. Pupils learn to write with purpose, format citations, edit their work, and formally present their projects. Many of Karaffa’s eighth-graders have been recognized for their work at the state level, and one student’s project was displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the year, Karaffa engages students in units that encourage them to examine the past and think about how it relates to current events. Her curriculum integrates essential reading, writing and research skills into foundational elements of U.S. and world history, including Reconstruction, segregation, the civil rights movement, World War II and the Holocaust. Karaffa emphasizes working with primary documents as students learn through document-based questions, gallery walks, talk shows, historical sing-alongs and mock elections. She challenges students to become engaged citizens. During election seasons, the class debates local and state legislation, analyzes propaganda tools and candidates’ speeches, and writes essays supporting their chosen candidates, always providing evidence to support their choices. Students understand what is expected of them and regularly exceed those expectations, finding their own voices along the way.
A leader in the building, district and beyond, Karaffa has helped develop district and state social studies curriculum, including remote learning units that proved essential during the pandemic. She is a James Madison Fellow, has led professional development at the district level, and has presented at the Maine Council for the Social Studies conference. In addition to her academic work, Karaffa coaches Whittier’s eight-grade girls’ soccer team.
Karaffa earned a bachelor’s in elementary education from Elizabethtown College in 2005 and a master’s in American history and government from Ashland University in 2021.
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