'Huge surprise:' Trumbull teacher lands prestigious history fellowship

Trumbull High history teacher Katie Boland is the state winner of the national James Madison fellowship for history teachers, allowing her to pursue her masters degree in Trumbull, Conn. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

Trumbull High history teacher Katie Boland is the state winner of the national James Madison fellowship for history teachers, allowing her to pursue her masters degree in Trumbull, Conn. on Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — A Trumbull High School teacher has been awarded a sought-after fellowship, the only recipient in the state.

Social studies teacher Kathleen Boland, who in 2017 was named Connecticut’s History Teacher of the Year, is among just 49 recipients nationwide receiving this year’s James Madison Memorial Fellowship.

The $24,000 award is designed to help secondary school American history, government and civics teachers further their education. Boland will use the award to get a second master’s degree in American history — she’ll be attending Pace University — and take part in a four-week intensive program in Washington, D.C., with her peers next summer.

“It was a huge surprise,” said Boland. Usually, candidates apply for the award several times. Bolland won the fellowship the first time she applied. She had learned about the fellowship from colleagues in other districts, she said.

“It’s been on my radar for like six or seven years,” she said.

Boland began her teaching career at Harding High School in Bridgeport in 2002, then came to Trumbull in 2010.

“She is a strong example of what makes a place like Trumbull High School so great,” said Todd Manuel, C-House principal. “The passion and exuberance that Ms. Boland displays for her content area on a daily basis permeates her classroom and our hallways.”

Manuel said she has a talent for working with her students.

“She always seems to find a way to inspire each individual in her class to engage,” he said.

If there’s a particular area of appeal to Boland, it’s early American history.

“Just for (students) to gain that appreciation of where we came from is really important,” she said. “I think it’s really important for everyone.”

“I’ve always loved studying the founders and having the students get to know them,” she said, “that they weren’t these all-star demigods. … They were people and they had their flaws, but they were also able to create this amazing document.”

Boland’s enthusiasm includes arriving in class dressed as George Washington for a lesson on the Constitutional Congress, and keeping a giant cardboard cutout of the country’s first president in her classroom.

“Katie is a very motivated and dedicated teacher who spends a lot of time creating activities that students can relate to,” said Kathy Rubano, social studies department chair.

Rubano said Boland’s focus on study of the U.S. Constitution is one reason she is in charge of the school’s We The People competitive team, which has won the state championship under her leadership.

“I am very proud of Katie and her dedication to our students,” Rubano said. Boland’s involvement has extended to the community at large with her work in Habitat for Humanity, Friends of Appalachia and other initiatives.

Boland plans on taking several new courses through her master’s studies — including ones that focus on the Kennedy era and on Native Americans — which the history teacher said will add to her ability to expand what students learn.

“Civic education is pivotal for the individual growth of all students,” Manuel said. “Knowledge of our government and its history is empowering. It helps develop the moral compass that guides and supports a more-informed decision-making capability for these young adults.

“Ms. Boland’s approach epitomizes independent thought,” he said, “backed by sound knowledge of experiences.”

Boland said her colleagues and the community at large play big roles in supporting and expanding her work.

“I work in a great department with great staff and amazing students,” she said. “I’m very fortunate.

“And I get a lot of support from the Trumbull community and from the alumni,” she said. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

Next summer, Boland will join the other recipients at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., for a four-week course devoted solely to the Constitution.

She’ll tour the city with colleagues, meet with one of the U.S. Supreme Court justices and there’s the possibility of a visit to the White House.

“That’s why this is program is so premiere,” she said of the fellowship. “People want that summer program.”

“Government is meant to be active, not passive,” Boland said.

One of the reasons she said she went into teaching to begin with was to help enlighten young people to the responsibility and intellectual requirements of learning the truth as an American citizen — regardless of politics but with a focus on engagement and intelligent civil discourse, she said.

“We are teaching our future voters. … They’re the ones that are going to keep our republic alive,” she said.