Swenson Award 2009
John Peterson, Rutland High School
John Peterson and Victor Swenson
Rutland High School teacher John Peterson has been named the 2009 humanities educator of the year by the Vermont Humanities Council. A Social Studies teacher at Rutland, Peterson is the seventh recipient of VHC’s annual Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award, first awarded in 2003.
Peterson was nominated by fellow Rutland teacher (and former student of Peterson’s) Jennie Gartner, who highlighted the respect shared by students and colleagues for his consistently fresh approaches to teaching, the interactive structure of his courses, his enthusiasm, and his humor.
“John is a teacher constantly in motion,” said Gartner. “He is always developing new ways to make history real, relevant and compelling for students. . . . There is no teacher I am aware of who is willing to do more for any student’s education than John.”
Vermont Humanities Council Chair Sylvia Robison presented the award at VHC's fall conference, Food for Thought, November 14 at the Essex. The ceremony included a presentation of a $1,000 check to Mr. Peterson.
Peterson has taught at Rutland for twenty-three years in the Social Studies Department. He has designed and taught courses in Anthropology as well as an Advanced Placement U.S. History course. Next year, he will begin teaching a new Humanities course, “American Voices,” which he spent five years helping design with the collaboration of the school’s English and History departments. He has served as the head of Rutland’s Social Studies Department through the tenures of three different principals, and is currently President of the Vermont Alliance for the Social Studies.
A trademark of Peterson’s teaching is his use of historical reproductions and props to make his courses tangible and interactive—from costumes for Salem Witch Trial reenactments to authentic recipes like cod stew from particular places and times in history.
“Whether he is crafting period costumes with his students, taking them to the Northeast Atlatl Competition or leading a school-wide celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday, John does everything with enthusiasm, expertise and good humor,” said Gartner. “No one is sure where his energy and passion come from, but if it were possible to bottle and distribute it, every student in the U.S.A. could have a world-class education that they would also enjoy.”
“He is so friendly and outgoing and enthusiastic about everything,” remarked one of his students. “He puts an incredible amount of time into everything he does, and he honestly cares. That is a big difference.”
Peterson earned a B.A. in American Civilization from Brown University and an M.A. in History from Rhode Island College. He worked for several years as a living history interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. He is an adjunct instructor at the College of St. Joseph in Rutland, president of the Brandon Historical Society, and Captain of the 2nd Vermont Volunteer Infantry, a U.S. Civil War Reenactment group.
The difference Peterson makes in the classroom is echoed by his value as a mentor at Rutland High School. “Teachers both new and experienced go to John for advice or assistance regarding every aspect of being an educator,” Gartner said. “He is a friendly presence . . . and cannot walk from his classroom down the hall to the main office without getting stopped by colleagues and students eager to talk to him.”
VHC created the Swenson award to recognize a Vermont educator on an annual basis and to honor Victor R. Swenson, the Council’s first executive director. The award is given to a Vermont educator in grades 6 through 12 who exemplifies excellence in the teaching of the humanities.
Nominations for the Swenson Humanities Educator Award are due June 15.
Learn more about the Victor R. Swenson Humanities Educator Award