Name: Elizabeth Howard Randolph, M.Ed.
School Name: Mullin Garza County
School Location: Post, TX
Subject(s) Teaching: Social Studies (History, Geography, Government, & Economics)
Grade(s) Teaching: 8th–12th Grade
No. of Years Teaching: 16
Elizabeth Howard Randolph, M.Ed., has been teaching social studies to middle and high school students at Mullin Garza County for the past eight years, which represents half of Randolph’s 16-year teaching career. Located in the small town of Post, Texas, Garza County Regional Juvenile Center is a secure lockdown facility which provides residential treatment, sex offender treatment, counseling and therapy, and detention for pre-adjudicated youth.
Youth Making Their Voices Heard
Nearly all of Randolph’s students have been through the court system, and, yes, teaching in a correctional setting can be difficult, she admits. “The kids here are more of the at-risk and marginalized type students,” Randolph adds. “A lot of times their only experience with government has involved being prosecuted. They don’t understand how the government works and, more importantly, they don’t understand their role in the government process or where and how to make their voice heard.”
That is where the SGAP newsletter comes in. Randolph says she uses the SGAP program to help meet some of the civic knowledge requirements of her state’s standards—the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills or TEKS, which are like the Common Core standards, only more specific to Texas, Randolph says.
“Using the SGAP newsletter, students are asked to formulate an opinion on one of the topics and they will write about it based on facts and details,” Randolph says. “These students have some pretty strong feelings, so guiding them to use their voice in effective ways makes a huge difference. I emphasize that we choose to give our government some of our autonomy so that they can protect our rights, and that the purpose of this is so that we are able to live with the maximum levels of autonomy possible while being safe to live freely.”
Promoting a Positive Environment
To create a welcoming environment for her students, Randolph spends the first week of the school year establishing the ground rules for her classroom. “We have two classroom rules that are non-negotiable: Treat yourself and others with respect, and behave with dignity and self-control,” she says. “I introduce the philosophies of natural and unalienable rights and emphasize that each student is intrinsically valuable, which some of these kids have never been told.”
To instill a sense of pride in her students and encourage them to see themselves as a community of learners, Randolph buys students the supplies they need to succeed and takes care to decorate her classroom according to the season. “This makes a huge difference to kids who are used to getting the bare minimum,” she says.
Randolph keeps her classroom an open and inviting place to learn, so students feel emotionally safe enough to express their opinions on the issues and current events discussed in class. “We need to stress civic engagement and participation at all levels, and we need to teach our children to hold their leaders accountable,” Randolph says. “It is critical to teach our children to have civil discourse and discussion with others. We have lost the ability to disagree with others and still be civil.”
At the end of the school year, when she will say goodbye to her students, Randolph hopes they will use everything they learned in social studies class to make the world a better place. “I hope they remember that they are intrinsically valuable just because they are humans,” she adds. “I hope they learn to value themselves and others, and that they absolutely make the world better.”