Building Background: Andrew Kempe’s journey to broaden horizons through Social Studies

| November 4, 2011

Kempe in Luxor

Andrew Kempe’s background in journalism and history has proven invaluable in his current role as a Social Studies student teacher at the Bronx High School of Science. Having worked in the Middle East and Latin America, this world traveler has a myriad of experiences and perspectives to share with his students.

A student in the Teaching of Social Studies MA program, Kempe’s passion for journalism and teaching are much the same. Because the Middle East is a place people know about, but, Kempe says, is often misunderstood, while Latin America is a place we know shockingly little about, especially considering our links there, Kempe feels it’s important to give people a broader perspective on the world, as well as a solid foundation in literacy, so they can see things in the media and diagnose whether they’re plausible, fact, or fiction.

“There’s so much that will go into print or on TV that’s patently not true. If you had a background or framework through which to look at things, it could enable people to make better decisions.” Those decisions, Kempe says, could be on a voting level, or just in terms of distinguishing fact from fiction. Given this desire to inform, Kempe says his motivation to be a journalist and a teacher are exactly the same.

Overlooking Copacabana, Bolivia

Having worked during his undergraduate studies with middle school students through the America Reads program in Philadelphia, Kempe now finds himself teaching Global History I to high school freshmen. “The kids are amazing. It’s kind of crazy. Discipline-wise they’re great, but at the same time they’re almost impossible to lesson plan for. They’re so smart that you might assume something will take a day, and they’ll already know it.”

While this is great, Kempe admits to the challenge of planning for such high achieving students. Bronx Science is a highly sought after public high school in New York City which attracts a population that includes many students who took tutoring courses to help prepare them for the high school entrance exam. Because of this, Kempe says “they’ve been taught to memorize and spit out important facts, so getting them to connect what they already know to some level of critical thinking is do-able, but tough.”

However, achieving something as tough as moving students from “memorize and recite” thinking to higher order critical thinking can be extremely rewarding. “I was a little worried, because the kids are so high performing, that it wouldn’t be that rewarding, but it is. Especially the freshmen.”

Kempe’s long term career goal is to teach in New York City public schools and hopefully be in a situation where he can put his Spanish skills to use. “I hope that, through working with these kids, I can find a way to reach kids of a more socio-economically diverse background in a higher needs environment.”

Upclose and personal in Jaipur, India

Kempe has already been able to witness a transformation in his students since the beginning of the year. “My students have been really coming out of their shells lately and a lot of them, I think, were stunned. They’re coming from a big mix of middle schools into this competitive environment with huge classes. Every class has more than 30 kids. They’re at capacity, and lot of them have mentioned that they’re used to more individualized attention. So it’s really nice working with them because I feel like, in a way, their experience in 9th grade is going to be whether or not they engage with Social Studies at Bronx Science and, in a way, whether or not they’re able to make it work for them or not.”

While the freshmen in Andrew Kempe’s Social Studies classes have much to adjust to as they enter the world of high school, one thing is sure: Mr. Kempe’s passion for leading them on the path of self-discovery, even as they learn about the world around them, will undoubtedly raise their awareness and open many doors.