Somogyi, Becca Litwin '12, and Robin Reich '12 help 8th graders write a history of Northfield.
Northfield, Minnesota, has more than its share of readers and writers. Countless historians have graduated from the esteemed programs at Carleton and St. Olaf. The Northfield Historical Society claims prime real estate in historic downtown. But, in more than 150 years since its founding, no one has written a comprehensive history of the town of cows, colleges, and contentment.
A bright group of dedicated middle schoolers plans to change that. Over the next two years, top social studies students will participate in the Student-Community Outreach Program Experience (SCOPE), where they will become historians of their town. As he does each year, middle school social studies teacher Earl Weinmann has chosen six students from dozens of applicants to spend two class periods of every day working on a collaborative history project. This year’s project is the history of Northfield, to be written with the support of Chip De Mann of the Northfield Historical Society, local freelance writer Orlo Otteson, and history majors from Carleton College.
Ben Somogyi, a senior from Amherst, New York, is delighted to be one of those Carleton students. Each term, Prof. Cliff Clark selects two or three history majors to join SCOPE as a six-credit internship. Each of them is responsible for planning and teaching four hours of lesson plans each week throughout the ten-week term. “My main goal is to make sure they learn something every day,” explains Somogyi. “I want my lessons to help them to become better readers, writers, and researchers.”
These lesson plans teach the middle schoolers everything they need to complete their group project. This fall is early in the first year of the Northfield history project, and currently Somogyi, along with his classmates Robin Reich ’12 and Becca Litwin ’12, is teaching about historical methods, such as primary source analysis and historical writing, as well as forming the relationships and setting the expectations that will guide students’ high level of participation for the rest of the year.
“It’s wonderful to work with these kids,” says Somogyi, “because they really need and appreciate the enrichment. The middle school sees that they need something more challenging, and they’ve found a way to give them more. The students work very hard and set high expectations for themselves, because past projects have been widely recognized and won national awards.”
Somogyi, too, is benefitting academically from SCOPE. “For liberal arts students, sitting in class is not enough. They say writing helps you learn some of what you study, visual representation allows you to remember even more, and teaching is the very best. If I want to be a great historian, I need to teach these methods and live them out. Otherwise, it can be hard to appreciate how all that we study applies beyond academia.” While travel and international relations interest him more than teaching history in the future, Somogyi still believes working with SCOPE will help him down the road. “I know this will make me a better person. The skills you learn by teaching are applicable everywhere in life. It’s amazing to have this responsibility and feel like I can make a difference for these kids.”