Washington High School teacher receives James Madison Memorial Fellowship

July 29, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE |

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — If it wasn’t for Donald Whitenight, a middle school teacher in Benton, Pa., Derek Hughes might never have become eligible for a $24,000 fellowship named for America’s fourth president.

Hughes, 28, who teaches history at Washington High School in Jefferson County, W.Va., was one of 58 history, civics and social studies secondary school teachers across the country to receive this year’s James Madison Memorial Fellowship to continue their educations. He will use the money to get his master’s degree.

Hughes, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., has been teaching in Jefferson County for five years — one year at Jefferson High School before moving to Washington High School four years ago. He teaches advance-placement, honors and college-preparatory students in world, European and U.S. history.

Because Madison is known as the “Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” fellowship rules dictate that Hughes’ master’s program must include “a concentration of courses on the history and principles of the United States Constitution,” according to a news release.

The fellowship is funded through a trust fund set up by the U.S. Treasury plus private, corporate and foundation gifts. It’s “intended to recognize promising teachers to strengthen their knowledge of the origins and development of American constitutional government, and expose secondary school students to the nation’s constitution heritage,” the release said.

Hughes grew up in Benton, a close-knit farming and bedroom Columbia County community in northeastern Pennsylvania. He was one of 43 seniors in his 2002 Benton High School graduating class. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Bloomsburg University in Columbia County in 2006.

“We beat Shepherd University in football at a home game,” he said.

“Because I was good at it,” he said when asked why history was his favorite subject.

That and the inspiration passed down from Whitenight, his eighth-grade history teacher.

“He loved teaching it and he always challenged his students,” Hughes said of Whitenight. “The more we learned, the harder the course got. He was always stepping up the game. I used to get A’s and hundreds, so other kids in the class would come to me for help.”

Hughes also derived inspiration from visiting historic attractions on family vacations.

“We went to Gettysburg and Antietam (national battlefields), and once we went to see Plymouth Rock.”

It didn’t impress him.

“It’s small,” he said.

Hughes challenges his students.

“It’s intensive. They get homework every night, tests, essays and extra work, even during the breaks. My students get two quizzes a week, six reading assignments, and they do research projects.”

This year, Washington High School graduated its first four-year class. Hughes was in at the beginning when the school opened four years ago. He wrote the school’s advanced-placement world and European history curriculums.

“Mr. Hughes makes use of technology and other resources to make history come alive for his students,” said Judy Marcus, Washington High School principal. “He’s an excellent teacher who devotes much time designing engaging and challenging lessons.”

Cathy Jenkins, chairwoman of the school’s social studies department, called Hughes a skilled teacher who helps his students excel to their highest ability.

Hughes and his wife, Maria, a Jefferson County elementary school teacher, have two children, Andrea, 6, and Jaxon, 2.

The couple met in college.

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