116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Cutting photos out of magazines and newspapers that depict the most intriguing points of the state’s history, students in an Iowa History class at Marion High School are helping mark the 175th anniversary today since Iowa became a state in 1846.
Many high schools in the state teach Iowa history as part of a broader focus on U.S. history and social studies. But at Marion High, social studies teacher Jonathan Mitchell has revived an Iowa History class with the desire for students to love where they come from and see how national and world events affected their own community.
Over a decade ago, Iowa History was taught at the school by a teacher who has since retired. When Mitchell started at Marion High six years ago, he suggested bringing back the course, which is now the No. 1 requested elective class at Marion High, he said — something that makes him “really proud.”
Many students said they signed up for the class because of him.
“Our most educated students often leave to go to bigger cities,” said Mitchell, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “Iowa: History Happens Here.”
“I’m hoping when they take this class, they fall in love with Iowa and choose to stay here. We need the biggest and brightest,” he said.
There is no textbook for the Iowa History class, but Mitchell is creative in how he teaches it and aims for it to be “rigorous.” The class also goes on field trips to places like Oak Shade Cemetery in Marion where Civil War veterans are buried. They visit Czech Village and learn about why central Europeans began immigrating here in the 1850s, leaving a lasting mark.
"It’s really interesting that things I see in my daily life have a lot of history,“ said Simon Finley, 17, a junior at Marion High.
When talking about Iowa’s 175th anniversary, Mitchell asked students to think about the oldest person they know.
One of his students works at a nursing home with a resident who is 106 years old, Mitchell said. “We talked about what events that person experienced, and then thought about everything Iowa has experienced,” he said.
While students learn a lot about Iowa’s 175 years of statehood history, Mitchell said they spend more time talking about the present than in many other history classes.
“Some of that stuff happened over 100 years ago,” he said. “There’s not a living person they know who that has impacted directly.”
During the flood of the end of September 2016, when the Cedar River crested just below 22 feet, Mitchell offered his students extra credit points if they went out and helped sandbag, helping divert potentially destructive water from homes and buildings.
“I know that’s not related to any educational standards, but it’s helping your community, being proud of where you come from, and saving where you come from,” Mitchell said.
After the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho, Mitchell asked students to compare the destruction then to the destruction in Iowa that occurred during the flood of 2008 when the Cedar River crested at over 31 feet, impacting 10 square miles of the city.
“There are some real emotions there,” Mitchell said in talking about the derecho.
The class also discusses what proactive steps they can take to avoid more flooding and natural disasters in the future.
Students’ final project in Iowa History is to make a commercial called “Why Iowa” to get them to think about why people might want to live here — and why they might want to continue living here.
Brayden Kriegel, 15, a sophomore, said he enjoys learning about the history of Iowa and how it applies to his life today. Specifically, Braydon is fascinated by the Honey War, a bloodless territorial dispute in 1839 between Iowa Territory and Missouri over their border.
Braydon, who is a member of the Marion Mayor’s Youth Council, plans to return to Marion after graduating from college. The Marion Mayor’s Youth Council is a group of high school students who meet with city leaders once a month to learn about their community and discuss what they want to see in their city.
Overall, students in the Iowa History class learn about historical events and how they impact present day. They study Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Eastern Iowa in 1959, when he gave speeches to large grounds at Coe College in Cedar Rapids and Cornell College in Mount Vernon. They learn about racial unrest in Waterloo in 1968, when a fight broke out at a high school football game and escalated into a full-blown riot, and the impact that had compared to the Black Lives Matter protests that began in summer 2020.
Students also learn about the history of Iowa’s economy and how the farm crisis in the 1980s forced Iowans to pivot from a predominantly agriculture economy and one that included new industries — one being renewable energy.
What people experienced nationally was experienced in Iowa too, Mitchell said.
“We talk about negative things, but we also like to celebrate Iowa and the people who inspired others,” Mitchell said.
Comments: (319) 398-8411; firstname.lastname@example.org