SEASIDE — What could students expect when they took a class with Broadway Middle School social studies teacher Kelly McKirdy?
Mock elections, out-of-state and overseas trips, interviewing a grandparent and learning strange facts, figures and tidbits not often found in conventional history books, to name a few.
“I always try bringing in things that are sort of different,” said McKirdy, who is retiring after 30 years at Broadway Middle School. “I try to, if I can, relate it to something in their life. Anything, even if it’s a small thing, so they can make a connection somehow.”
For instance, when teaching local history, he shared about the 1960s riots that occurred in Seaside and were, in fact, one of his first introductions to the town.
McKirdy started his teaching career straight out of college — where he majored in political science — at Canyonville Christian Academy, previously Canyonville Bible Academy. He spent five years there, took a temporary job in Brookings for a year and then landed his job in Seaside. He said when he told people where he was moving, they often responded, “That’s where they had the riots.”
Not to be deterred, McKirdy still took the job and incorporated information about the incidents into his curriculum for students.
Using old newspaper clippings and images from the Oregon Historical Society, he put together a slideshow and collages about the riots, which involved “a bunch of college kids going crazy, doing all sorts of things,” McKirdy said. He also invited a former policeman who served during the riots to present for the students.
“That was really fun to hear what it was like,” he said.
Teaching students little-known facts about history, or sharing with them a different perspective or twist, was one aspect of McKirdy’s classes, which included seventh-grade world history, eighth-grade United States history and multiple electives.
Another tradition he borrowed from a Clatskanie teacher and started at Broadway Middle School was the grandparent report. Students interviewed one of their grandparents— or another person two generations older, if no grandparent was available — and wrote a report.
McKirdy said he is happy to learn his replacement, Daniel Floyd, agreed to keep that project in the curriculum for eighth-graders.
The students created a slide show with information about each state, such as where McKirdy can find a state park, national park, places to camp in an RV and a theme park — “because I love roller coasters and theme parks,” he said.
“I think it helped add to the excitement,” he said.
As for him, he has planned this trip for about a year but desired to do it his whole life.
McKirdy enjoys traveling and, over the years, gave students opportunities to take history and culture-focused trips to Europe, Costa Rica, Australia and East Coast destinations such as Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, Florida, Baltimore and Kentucky.
He usually led students and adult chaperones or parents on trips in June. Over the years, McKirdy said, “It’s been harder and harder to get people who can afford the trip,” which he believes is unfortunate because of how the trips benefited students.
“We’ve had a lot of fun, and the cool thing is, we’ve gotten a lot of kids interested in traveling,” he said. “You learn so much history, too. I mean, that’s typically the main interest.”
Becoming informed citizens
Besides travel, McKirdy also introduced his students to the world of politics, voting and persuasive debate. Since the 1980s, McKirdy held mock elections each year that varied based on current events and what races and topics were on the ballot at the time.
Over the years, eighth-grade American history students debated about and voted on congressional races, presidential primaries, the U.S. general election and major measures, such as those regarding marijuana and gay marriage laws.
“We’ve had some pretty hot topics on the ballot over the years,” McKirdy said.
Generally, the students’ voting results mirrored the actual results from each election.
Students perused voter guides, did individual research and prepared speeches. McKirdy feels they were sufficiently able to grasp the topics.
“Sometimes I think they end up knowing more than their parents do,” he said.