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Winning Lesson Proposals on New York Times v. Sullivan Documentary Announced

The Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan program of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, has announced the winning educators in the call for lesson plan proposals for its short historical documentary about the landmark Supreme Court case New York Times v. Sullivan, a film in Annenberg Classroom’s award-winning Constitution Project series.

Educators from across the country submitted proposals for review by a team of experienced education professionals. From that larger group, the committee selected one middle-school and two high school proposals. The completed lesson plans will be posted online in March and available as one of the many no-cost, high-quality education resources on AnnenbergClassroom.org.

Still from the Annenberg Classroom "New York Times v. Sullivan" documentary film.The educators in Washington State, Missouri, and Michigan who wrote the winning proposals will receive a stipend to develop lesson plans for the film “The First Amendment: New York Times v. Sullivan” (watch the film here). The three teachers have a combined 60+ years of teaching experience and are the recipients of numerous teaching honors. Each shared their reasons for submitting a lesson-plan proposal.

Don Jenkins, a teacher at North Whidbey Middle School, in Washington, submitted a lesson plan proposal because he likes how the film “brings together civil rights and freedom of the press.” He added that “both of these topics impact students’ lives in the present and using this film and lesson plan will help students realize the importance of the Civil Rights Movement and freedom of the press.”

Dr. Tanya Roth, a Missouri high school teacher at Mary Institute and Saint Louis Country Day School, outside St. Louis, decided to submit a lesson plan proposal because she found the documentary “very captivating – it not only provided great information on how media coverage helped influence the Civil Rights Movement, but also … offers a rich foundation for considering relevant questions for students, including their own role in participating in the nation, their understanding of the Civil Rights Movement, and even how to work on their own media literacy.”

Ryan Werenka, a teacher at Troy High School, in Michigan, said that viewing the documentary had such an impact on him that he “was so moved by the video presented that I decided to use it in my class this semester and built out an entire lesson.” He believes that “New York Times v. Sullivan is a valuable case to study in … the AP US Government and Politics curriculum, because it joins the 1st Amendment protections of free speech and free press with the Civil Rights Movement.”

Here is more about the teachers selected to develop the lesson plans:

Don Jenkins has been a social studies educator for 30 years. He is a National Board Certified teacher, was named a Civic Engagement Champion by the National Association of State Boards of Education, and was selected as the 2021 Middle Level Teacher of the Year by the National Council for the Social Studies. Jenkins was selected as a Fulbright Scholar twice, and has been chosen as a Fellow for the Korean War Legacy Foundation and the iCivics Educating for American Democracy project. He was also selected last year to develop a proposal for Annenberg Classroom’s film “Juneteenth” (see the film and its lesson plans).

Tanya Roth teaches high school history at MICDS, an independent JK-12 school in St. Louis, Missouri. She joined the faculty in 2011 and primarily teaches modern world history and honors-level US history. Her classes incorporate a range of teaching strategies, with a particular focus on writing support. Dr. Roth earned her history PhD from Washington University in St. Louis. Her book “Her Cold War: Women in the US Military, 1945-1980” was published by UNC Press in 2021.

Ryan Werenka has been a Social Studies teacher for over 20 years in the Troy School District. He currently works at Troy High School in Troy, Michigan, where he teaches AP US Government and Politics and AP Comparative Government and Politics. Werenka was named the 2021 Michigan History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. He serves as a teacher adviser to the National Constitution Center, Retro Report, PBS NewsHour Classroom, The Council on Foreign Relations, Civics 101 Podcast, and iCivics.