Amy Biehl High School (ABHS) is a charter school in Albuquerque, New Mexico that serves close to 300 students in grades 9-12. Founded in 2000, Amy Biehl High School was named after the young anti-apartheid activist, Amy Biehl, who was killed while performing service work in South Africa. ABHS’s mission focuses on imparting the values of social justice and service, as demonstrated by Amy Biehl, to its students. A founding member of the Innovative Schools Network, Amy Biehl High School uses Facing History and Ourselves in developing the mindful academic environment and school culture at ABHS.
Facing History curricula helps students connect to both the story of Amy Biehl and other instances of resistance and reconciliation, both throughout history and in their own lives. In 9th grade, after extensive use of the Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior text in their humanities class, students participate in the Social Action Carnival. Students choose a social cause to research and address, coupling their analytical skills with an active engagement in humanitarian efforts to address their chosen issue. Students apply the lessons learned in their humanities class regarding the importance of being an upstander, rather than a bystander, to issues that may otherwise go unnoticed in their community.
The annual Social Action Carnival aids individual student growth, as well as the general community’s awareness of important topics. Through this unique program, many students gain self-confidence as they realize the merit in sharing their research and experiences with other members of the community. Students continue their Facing History journey in their 10th grade Facing U.S. History and 11th grade Facing World History humanities classes. As seniors, students at ABHS build on their experiences from the Social Action Carnival to complete a service project that requires the completion of 100 hours of service with a non-profit organization.
Facing History is also woven deeply into parts of the school’s culture. The school’s guiding Habits of Heart and Mind emphasize the value of collaboration and remind students to always be aware of how one’s actions affect others; these tenets resonate with Facing History’s exploration of “universe of responsibility” and choice-making. Every other week, the entire school community gathers at an Indaba, where school-wide conversations and celebrations take place. Indaba refers to a South African practice of meeting to discuss important matters; these school gatherings strengthen the school community and give students and faculty alike the chance to have their voices heard. While learning about the impact of individuals’ decisions during various events in history, Facing History themes of civic engagement, tolerance, and community participation gain significance in students’ own lives.
Students are encouraged to critically analyze and address issues that arise in their community while continuously working to act ethically. In addition, Facing History and Ourselves has tangibly improved the culture of tolerance and acceptance of difference at Amy Biehl High School. Student surveys and comments attest to the belief that the presence of Facing History at ABHS has led to greater respect and understanding among community members. The partnership between Facing History and ABHS demonstrates how conscientious lesson-planning in the humanities and careful programmatic planning can help schools achieve their goals.
Educator Ronda McQuade once described Facing History and Ourselves as the “heartbeat of the school.” She explains that “we were looking for a link between scholarship and the service mission of our school. Facing History’s scope and sequence is the perfect link.” Facing History and the Innovative Schools Network are fundamental aspects of the school community at Amy Biehl High School.