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‘American Ride’ host offers ways to connect students with history

Aug 24, 2018 01:55PM ● Published by Jana Klopsch

“American Ride” creator and host Stan Ellsworth inspired Jordan School District teachers to find more ways to teach and engage students in U.S. history. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com 

This fall, Jordan School District teachers will introduce more methods for students to make connections with history, thanks to a weeklong workshop sponsored by the Library of Congress and the Metropolitan College of Denver. 

“Teachers were introduced to ways to find primary sources through diaries, articles, first-person accounts, newspapers and analyze who wrote it and their audiences,” said Pam Su’a, District social studies and world language content administrator. “For example, with the Battle of New Orleans, there could be multiple accounts of what happened from [U.S. President Andrew] Jackson, his officers, people who live in the area, those they battled. Think of how many ways their accounts differed and what they gained from telling their stories and to whom. It helps to determine how trustworthy the documents are.” 

A team of 19 fifth- and eighth-grade teachers — who were selected from more than 100 teachers who include U.S. history in their classes and had applied for the workshop — learned about primary sources from Brigham Young University associate professor Jeff Nokes. 

“We want to teach kids how to read, how to carefully think about and how to be engaged in history,” said the former Elk Ridge and Bingham High teacher. “We like them to ask good historical open-ended questions and gather evidence, understand the perspectives involved and have the skills to analyze it. These teachers are learning strategies and discovering sources that will help students.” 

Although these teachers already have a passion for history, Su’a thought it would be special to find a way to spark their interest with a surprise guest, Harley Davidson rider and former Highland High history teacher Stan Ellsworth, who created and starred in the history series “American Ride” on BYUtv. 

“I ride because I love it,” he said. “I teach because we need it.” 

Ellsworth told the teachers that he wasn’t much of a student and “was a free, independent thinker.” However, his family was direct descendants from the “Robert Lees of Virginia” and that was pounded into him at an early age. 

“I had to tuck in my shirt tails and always behave an appropriate way,” he said. “At an early age, I was well aware that American history was intertwined with my family and my identity.”

Ellsworth’s family lineage also includes Revolutionary War patriot Ethan Allen, U.S. President and Commanding General of the United States Army Ulysses S. Grant and American frontiersman Davy Crockett. 

The former linebacker for the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks coached college football before eventually becoming a history teacher at Highland High. 

“I never taught class,” he said. “I taught people, and we have to see the value in every kid and person. I tried to motivate the next generation to make the connection that it’s not ‘them,’ but they are part of history and need to make their own connection to education. What I loved was when I saw it in their eyes that they got it and understood what we were talking about. Education isn’t something you can give to students; they’ve got to take it for themselves.” 

In 2000, he was approached by a film director about playing the role of a “mean coach” for a film. 

“I didn’t have any acting experience, and I’m really a nice guy who was never looking to get into this kind of entertainment, but once I heard about the pay,” he said, willing to give it a shot. That rolled out a new career where Ellsworth has been an actor in movies and performed stunts on his motorcycle. This lead to him developing a new career that also included his love of history and teaching. 

Now, as the motorcycle-riding host of “American Ride” and YouTube series “History and the Highway,” Ellsworth hopes it will inspire and educate more people outside the classroom walls. 

“On the website, I have small segments where students and teachers can tune in and watch about the Declaration of Independence and what it means, or what the Constitution says or why the American Revolution is important,” he said. “It provides a quick, open discussion for students, and it engages the kids so they may want to know more and want to know why.” 

Sau’u, who also is a member of the National Humanities Center Teacher Advisory Board, said that the segments are a great way to introduce subject material or summarize subjects.

West Hills Middle School social studies and instructional coach Janet Sanders appreciated Ellsworth’s words. 

“Teachers do have an important role in shaping the kids’ lives and empowering them to learn,” she said. “Through this workshop, we’ve been making specific lessons and sharing them and bringing in technology into the curriculum. I’m excited for the new ways we’ll be teaching this fall.” 

South Jordan Middle School eighth- and ninth-grade U.S. history and geography teacher Geneava Boland had plans to watch Ellsworth’s segments. 

“I’m excited to watch them and see how I can use it in my class,” she said. “Kids can catch on, and he’s a storyteller, not a boring instructor or a document. Introducing more primary sources to students will be fun. Not only are we teaching students critical thinking skills, in a way, they are becoming more like their own investigators, digging in texts to come up with their own conclusions and realizing not everything is black and white.” 

South Jordan Middle School Assistant Principal Tim Heumann said Ellsworth provided a twist to the typical teaching approach. 

“I like that it’s different,” he said. “He’s real, and you have to admire his honesty of who the people are in history, whether it’s what you may or may not think. He digs in and rides through our history, telling all of us stories that engage us.”

 

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