Taking a Creative Approach to World Cultures

Two Upper School teachers team up on an innovative pilot course.
Upper School teachers Emily Nason and Chad Chafee have teamed up to give ninth grade boys a rich new approach to studying world cultures. 

As Nason, an English teacher, and Chafee, a history teacher, discussed the intersections in their areas of study, they saw an opportunity to give the boys a dynamic learning experience that spans disciplines. “Literature and history can really walk hand in hand,” said Chafee. “A lot of the history the boys are studying influences the writing we see in those periods, so we tried to figure out a way to connect the two.”

The teachers worked together for more than two years to plan courses that complemented each other. “We were interested in taking a collaborative approach,” said Nason. “It’s the same group of boys, but we teach them separately, and that allows us to take the boys on experiential trips and bounce between each other’s classes.”

Nason and Chafee’s daily lessons are mutually reinforcing. While Chafee’s group explores ancient Greek culture through historical events, Nason’s class studies Homer’s “The Odyessy.” During a field trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, each student picked a historical artifact and then wrote about it from a literary perspective. “We’re looking at things from two different perspectives,” said Connor Welch ‘26, “This approach is much more immersive.” 

As the year continues, the courses will focus on four broad cultural sections: East Asian, Mediterranean, Southwest Asian, Middle Eastern and African. 

While Chafee and Nason want the course to push their students to study world cultures through a holistic lens, they look at this new teaching format as a learning experience for them as well. The duo sees the other’s expertise and methods as building on different strengths. While Nason compliments Chafee’s historical perspective, he credits her with getting students to talk and share perspectives. “I like to come in and watch how she approaches discussions and debates because it’s so different from my experiences and background,” Chafee said.

While the courses are still in the pilot stage, the two hope their collaborative model will scale up for classes with older boys too, preparing them for college-level academics and beyond. “These courses aren’t necessarily about memorizing facts,” said Chafee. “It’s about synthesizing information and overall making the boy a better thinker.”