Expanding Horizons in New Mexico

History and Social Studies Department Chair Ms. Katie Scorza traveled to the hills of northern New Mexico in July to attend the annual Dar al Islam Teachers' Institute. Held each year since 1994 on a campus near the town of Abiquiu, the two-week residential program seeks to enable educators to teach about Islam with greater confidence.

Ms. Scorza chose to dedicate a portion of her summer to the Institute because she relishes any opportunity to learn, especially if it will help her teach at a high level. Specifically, the chance to spend time among other teachers, with the express purpose of learning how to communicate new knowledge to students, is something she seeks to do as often as she can.

"It was a very intense learning environment," Ms. Scorza shared. "We had four 90 minute lectures nearly every day over the course of the two weeks." Using primary texts, discussions, and interaction with practicing Muslims on the staff, the Institute helps participants delve into a wide variety of topics in Islamic history, culture, and contemporary issues. Discourse is led by professors and Islamic scholars.

"Two professors focused on Islamic history, which was a comfortable topic," Ms. Scorza continued, "but two focused on Islamic theology, which was like driving on the other side of the road. I used the same part of my brain as I would discussing Christian theology, but in entirely different ways. That really stretched my mind and was where I learned the most."

The application process for attending the Institute includes a one-page essay describing why the applicant wishes to take part and how participating will complement his or her personal and professional goals. While attending, participants were tasked with creating a lesson plan to use in the upcoming school year. Ms. Scorza's lesson, which she will employ later this fall in World History II, will focus on trade between the Venetian and Ottoman Empires. Ms. Scorza is also looking forward to using her new knowledge to enhance discussions of contemporary issues in her American History classes, specifically in regards to United States policies in the Middle East and immigration policy.

Despite the busy schedule at the Institute, Ms. Scorza had the middle weekend off, which she packed full with a trip to Santa Fe, the Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, the Shrine of Chimayo, and Valles Caldera National Preserve. She also enjoyed less academic pursuits at the Institute including Arabic lessons, art activities, and eating delicious halal food.