Mr. Barrett: Putting the Social Studies Department on the Map


Liam Tenenbaum, Staff Writer

During a regular day at Tenafly High School, a herd of students group around the entrance to classroom 205 while dressed in their most formal attire. Excitement and nervousness travel through the scholars as they ready themselves for a heated social studies project: a debate on the future of US policies within the Middle East. Walking into the small room filled with globes, flags, maps, textbooks, and an abnormally large cutout of Captain America, the students file into their seats, ready to engage in fierce diplomatic combat. At the front of the class, a sleek wooden podium stands, and behind it a hero of history, dominator of debate, respected figure most likely wearing a vest: Mr. Ken Barrett.

Mr. Barrett is a social studies and debate teacher who has been sharing his humanities knowledge for over three decades. The courses he teaches are The American Experience, African and Asian Civilizations and Cultures, and Debate. His journey to a teaching position was a complicated one. After high school, “I had no clear direction as to what I wanted to do with my life,” Mr. Barrett explained. In the following years, he dabbled in several professions: carpenting, kitchen designing, and even taking on a role in banking. However, it was through his experiences helping youth activities in his church where he realized: “I [love] working with young people and wanted to share my love of learning with them.” Needless to say, he has experienced great success in the realms of education, capitalized by his two teacher of the year awards.

Mr. Barrett’s personality and expertise in his field are the leading factors as to why he is such a prominent teacher in the social studies department. His energetic teaching style makes for comprehensible and captivating lessons. His aptitude in the fields of history, geography, and sociology allows him to teach students in a manner where the students’ knowledge will be greatly developed and they will remember the deep lessons of his class.

So, what is it like to learn under Mr. Barrett? Well, it’s definitely unique. One thing that his experience in teaching has given him is a good ability to understand his students and relate to what they are going through in school. He considers one of his most notable experiences while teaching “helping students navigate their THS experience.” This is especially helpful for freshmen, who have many questions as they first test the waters of high school. Another aspect that the students of Mr. Barrett appreciate is his desire for his students to succeed. Through his lessons, teaching styles, and opportunities, students’ time in the classroom is well spent as he develops the potential of his students and deepens their understanding. “My favorite aspects of teaching are the interactions I have thousands of times a day with my students—some funny, some intense, some even sad, but always fulfilling,” Barrett said.

Although Mr. Barrett teaches three courses, he is possibly most known as the face of the African and Asian Civilizations and Cultures Honors course, a class highly feared by the incoming freshman of THS. While selecting your freshmen courses in 8th grade, teachers refer to social studies honors as one of the hardest. This is for good reason, as the brave students who opt to take this course face a year of intense lectures, varying projects, difficult exams, and a college-level textbook that has to weigh at least 20 pounds. “I consider it a badge of honor that students will still take the class in spite of its hard reputation,” Barrett said. “The course is meant to challenge and prepare the students for high school history. I am glad that I can meet their expectations.” Referred to as AACCH (pronounced like you’re frustrated at something) by the students, this course’s rigor and learning experience has huge effects on students’ academic life within THS. They become better thinkers, writers, and test takers. With its rigorous homework assignments, students will also gain skills in time management and work ethic.

Perhaps what sets Mr. Barrett apart as a unique teacher is the creative and interactive aspects of his teaching methods. Infamous parts of Mr. Barrett’s courses are the BBQ (Blue Book Quiz, not Barbeque), a quick, homework-based quiz that includes dice rolling for question selection; the Current Events Project, a semester long portfolio of analyzing newspaper documents; and Review Basketball, a competitive game of test prep questions and shooting a toy basketball into a trash can for the hope of extra credit points (which students definitely want). The distinctive and fun assignments add a whole new dimension to the course, introducing students to a new way of thinking and learning.

As a student of AACCH myself, I am truly amazed by the creativity and depth of the assignments that Mr. Barrett gives his classes. Although having multiple 100-point projects going on at once can have major effects on one’s sleep schedule, the experience gained from completing one is like no other. After following through with a project and seeing the finished product, there is a full sense of accomplishment and pride in oneself.

Are you an 8th grader considering taking AACCH next year? If you are, I would definitely recommend it. For any person who finds connection to the social studies world, the AACCH course will change your perspective on past, present, and future happenings. Learning under Mr. Barrett will make a big impact on your freshman experience and the future of your social studies adventures.

P.S. If you do end up taking AACCH, please start your Current Events Portfolio on schedule
— saving it for the final weeks is inevitably dooming yourself.