Scholarship program to teach history and civics to high school students.
If you look up at the stone on the third floor of the 1923 Abilene High School on S. 1st Street, you’ll see a stone owl carved into the building. It faces forward, wings spread wide over an open book. This symbol of wisdom and learning is now the namesake of a new educational initiative for high school students launching in 2020.
Taught by local historian and retired Abilene High School history teacher, Jay Moore, the class will cover U.S. government, civic virtues and personal finances.
“The Founders thought that, unless the American people worked to become more and more virtuous, that the whole self-government experiment would not work,” Moore said. “And in those days, teaching your children about values at home was a common thing. We don’t talk about that much anymore.”
The classes will be permanently located in the old Abilene High School once it is transformed into the Abilene Heritage Square, a new library and community center set to be completed by 2023. In the meantime, the classes will take place at the Grace Museum.
Here’s how the classes will work: local high school juniors and seniors will apply to the program beginning in January or February 2020, and 40 students will be accepted. The same class will be offered three times a year, so a total of 120 students will have the opportunity to participate. They will take a total of 18 lessons spread out over 9 weeks. Moore said aside from some outside reading, there won’t be tests or homework in the classes.
“This is more of a chance to simply discuss and talk about some of these issues,” Moore said. “I may ask them or have them write ‘What do you think about this?’”
Personal enlightenment aside, what’s the incentive for these students to spend their free time learning about civics? All participating students who complete the course will get a $3,000 scholarship from the Dian Graves Owen Foundation, which can be used for a college or vocational school of their choice. Moore said the foundation was simply motivated by a desire to educate students to be better citizens.
“There’s a dearth of understanding, not just among students, but among adults,” Moore said. “If you don’t understand how the government is set up or supposed to operate, it’s hard to read the news and make sense of it.”
The first part of the course will also be presented to adults and will explore how the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence shape the nation’s government. In the Stone Owl Academy, students will start with those ideas and move on to learning about values for the common good (courage, contribution, humility, compassion, self-governance, civility, etc.).
Throughout his 28 years of teaching high school, Moore would often ask students “what did we not teach you in high school?” The most common answer, he said, was taxes and anything related to money. That’s why the final topic of the Stone Owl Academy will cover topics such as banking, free enterprise, taxes, insurance and managing money.
“Most students want to learn,” Moore said. “They don’t always act like it, but most students wanted to learn.”
Moore said a website and applications will be ready in the spring. In the meantime, you can get more information by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Haley Remenar
Photography by Beth Dukes