Inspired by George Washington, Teacher Brings Naturalization Ceremony to his High School

ByEllen Tucker
On February 18, 2020

“We are a nation of immigrants,” says Sean Brennan, who teaches US government at Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School in Broadview Heights, Ohio. “Most of our families came here legally, and most American immigrants still do.” Concerned that students don’t understand the careful process through which immigrants become citizens, Brennan borrowed an idea from a colleague he met at a George Washington Teacher Institute workshop at Mount Vernon, Virginia. He arranged for his high school to sponsor a naturalization ceremony.

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The colleague who shared the idea was government teacher Dusty Helton of Pigeon Forge High School in Tennessee. (Helton, like Brennan, frequents TAH programs.) Helton had learned during a field trip to the Federal District Court in Knoxville that presiding Judge Pamela Reeves was eager to take naturalization ceremonies out into the community, so that citizens might witness them. Helton offered, on the spot, to host one at his school.

Helton advised Brennan to contact a nearby federal district court to see about doing a similar ceremony at Brecksville-Broadview Heights. Brennan already knew a US District Court Judge personally. Since 2011, Brennan has served as President of City Council in his hometown of Parma. Senior Judge Christopher Boyko grew up in Parma, and Brennan knows the Boyko family well. Every year, when Brennan takes the students in his elective course on American jurisprudence to visit courts at the county, state and federal level in Cleveland, they tour the US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, and Boyko makes time to talk with Brennan’s students.

Brennan’s experience as an elected official gave him the confidence to reach out to the federal district court, yet Helton’s example shows any teacher could do the same. And without the networking that goes on at teacher colloquia, Brennan would never have had the idea.

Read more to learn how our first President inspires Sean Brennan.


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