There and back again: A Magister’s tale

By CHRISTIAN MORRISON

Steven Cruikshank sits in what he calls his “cave,” his desk in the corner of the Latin classroom at Citrus Valley High School, in January 2019. (Ethic Photo)

Before reading this article, it is important to note some key things. First and foremost, the two adventures listed in this article occurred a year apart. The interview with Steven Cruikshank in Adventure one happened in 2018; this was when he was in his first year teaching Latin in a telepresence class. During that time, Cruikshank was mainly teaching from the Redlands East Valley High School campus. Adventure two contains an interview with him that happened this year when he started teaching solely from the Citrus Valley High School campus.

Both adventures together provide a comprehensive analysis of how Cruikshank has evolved as an educator over the course of a year. At the same time, the two pieces also show how two schools honor codes, REV WAY and CLASS, have affected REV and Citrus Valley respectively over the course of a year. Through Cruikshank’s presence on both school campuses, he is also able to give an account of the unique school cultures present at both schools. With this necessary background information given, both pieces may be enjoyed to the fullest extent.

Adventure I

Steven Cruikshank is not an ordinary Latin teacher, or magister.

While other teachers on the subject are monotonously drilling their students on proper Latin verb conjugation and sentence structure, Cruikshank is energetically teaching these same things along with the finer points of Greco-Roman culture, which covers topics from wealthy Roman vacation houses to how Roman politicians gained power in Roman society, to not one but two classes simultaneously.

In addition to his amazing teaching skills, what sets Cruikshank apart from other Latin teachers is the unique telepresence system that he utilizes to teach students at both Redlands East Valley and Citrus Valley high schools Latin at the same time. This gives him the opportunity to interact with two different schools and their respective cultures on a daily basis.

“Telepresence is unique because, while it is just one classroom, the learning environment extends to two different school sites,” he says. Cruikshank is relatively new to teaching as this is just his second year of instructing students in the study of Latin and Greco-Roman culture.

Cruikshank use smartboard technology in the Redlands East Valley telepresence room in May 2018. (Ethic Photo)

Despite his short time being present at both Citrus Valley and REV, he has already made large impacts on both campuses. This year alone he has helped students at REV form the Latin Club, which works to provide extracurricular activities to promote greater involvement in the study of Greco-Roman culture among the student population at REV.

He also continues to play a great role in the Latin Club stationed at Citrus Valley, which to promotes the study of Greco-Roman culture through extracurricular activities. Along with the Redlands High School Latin teacher Maggie De La Cruz, he helped to form an interdistrict Latin club that connects all Latin enthusiasts at all three schools together.

Cruikshank feels that a greater amount of interaction with the Latin language and Greco-Roman culture is very beneficial to all schools in the district. “Latin is the foundation of all the Humanities, which gives foundation to modern languages and the arts, and allows students to gain better cultural literacy,” he said.

Another benefit of Latin is that it allows students to learn more languages with greater ease, especially languages that come from Romantic or Germanic roots. With a year’s experience of teaching telepresence classes, Cruikshank has gained much knowledge on how telepresence has a beneficial impact on the learning environments of both Citrus Valley and REV classes. “It allows for students to collaborate between school sites,” he says.

What is unique about the telepresence system is how it allows for students at both school sites to exchange thoughts on subject matters or class assignments to reach conclusions that help them gain further understanding of the subject as a whole. This certainly enhances the learning environments at both schools and allows students to dig deeper into the subject matter to derive understanding at a level that would not be possible in regular classes.

Cruikshank also says, “It allows for access to classes that would not normally be available at either school sites.” Most telepresence classes, such as Latin and Human Geography, would not be able to be taken as regular courses due to a lack of a great multitude of students that is commonplace among core classes. However, by combining classes of interested students at both school sites, telepresence classes are able to offer interesting courses that would normally be unavailable to students who are eager to learn subject material pertaining to those studies.

With interaction between students at different schools, which encourages learning at a deeper level, and greater access to interesting courses, Cruikshank is sure that telepresence classes have had a positive effect on learning environments of all schools that participate in such programs. The learning environment is not the only thing that is benefiting from telepresence courses, according to Cruikshank.

Through the nature and extent of thought exchange that occurs in telepresence classes, Cruikshank feels that such classes act as a bridge between school cultures for his students at Citrus Valley and REV. In recent years, both Citrus Valley and REV have enacted student behavior guidelines to encourage more positive learning environments; Citrus Valley boasts the CLASS (Character Leadership Attitude Scholarship Service) ideology, while REV shows pride in its newly implemented REV WAY (Be Respectful, Ethical, Vocal, Wildcats, Accountable, You!).

Cruikshank believes that these two student behavior guidelines are unique to both schools and reflect school cultures that are different from one another. He says, “If you break down CLASS and the REV WAY you get unique viewpoints.”

These unique codes help to define the cultures present at both schools. REV, he says, is characterized by great initiative and eagerness to experiment with new ideas, which is especially shown to him through REV students’ quick formation of a Latin Club.

Citrus Valley is characterized by a great dedication to ensuring that every student there is able to gain full advantage of their educational opportunities present at their school. These school cultures are built upon their respective CLASS and REV WAY codes that encourage the development of distinct cultures at both school sites.

However, Cruikshank firmly believes that REV and Citrus Valley should not try and use such diverse cultures to justify competition among the schools, but should instead encourage both schools to learn from one another and create a school environment that combines the best elements of both systems.

He certainly incorporates this practice in his own telepresence classes. “I take the best of the two and try to encourage academic excellence in the two schools,” he proudly reports. By doing so, Cruikshank is able to create a classroom environment that embodies all the ideals that are seen as necessary for effective educational advancement among the student population to occur.

This is all thanks to the telepresence system, which allows him to take part in and experience both school cultures firsthand. Reflecting on his teaching experience so far at REV and Citrus Valley, Cruikshank feels that it is both interesting and rewarding to teach at both high schools. “I get to be a part of both school cultures,” he happily states.

He loves teaching his Latin telepresence courses, which help to inspire students at both REV and Citrus Valley to engage more with the classical arts as a whole. Without a shadow of a doubt, Cruikshank believes that telepresence courses help to promote a better learning environment and contribute to the creation of better school cultures through the thought exchange the occurs between students at both schools: a concept that is unique to telepresence classes.

Adventure II

Cruikshank using the digital textbook on his smartboard in the Citrus Valley High School telepresence room in January 2019. He is teaching the Latin level one’s red book. (Ethic Photo)

Over the course of a year, a lot has changed for Mr. Cruikshank; however, a good amount has remained the same.  While he is still teaching Latin telepresence courses, he now teaches these courses solely from Citrus Valley. This, of course, is different from last year when he alternated between the two school campuses.  

Cruikshank continues to be best known for his dedication to helping his students explore the Classics inside and outside the classroom at both Redlands East Valley High School and Citrus Valley High School.  When REV wanted to start a Latin Club, he was completely on board and helped his students plan many cool events, such as a trip to the Getty Museum.

He recently took a group of students from both Citrus Valley and REV to Southern California Regional Amici Madness, which is a regional Latin convention organized by the Junior Classical League, where they were able to embrace their love for the Classics and meet many like-minded individuals.  Throughout his two years of teaching Latin in the Redlands Unified School District, Cruikshank has always been willing to lend a hand to his students when they wished to learn more outside of the classroom.

Teaching full-time at Citrus Valley has allowed him to become more acquainted with the Citrus Valley school culture, which has given him insight into the differences and similarities that it shares with REV’s school culture.  Because of this, he is able to effectively analyze the results of the CLASS and REV WAY systems by comparing the two school cultures unique to each school. Thus, at this milestone in the implementation of these two school honor codes it is important to revisit Cruikshank.  

This year marks the second year that Cruikshank has been teaching Latin telepresence.  Having experienced the telepresence style of teaching for over a year now, he has learned how to more effectively utilize the system and has grown as a teacher overall.  “Things get easier and with experience you focus in on things,” Cruikshank stated.

The growth that he experienced this year stemmed mainly from one unforeseen difficulty – being absent from REV’s campus.  Unlike last year, Cruikshank was unable to visit the REV class due to time restrictions that his class schedule placed on him; however, this did not stop him from teaching his classes effectively, but rather caused him to look for different ways to instruct the students and provide them with challenging course material.  “You find new ways to challenge the students,” he explained.

His new approach to teaching has, in turn, helped the students to grow by allowing them to learn new ways of viewing information and having them work collaboratively when doing work. Cruikshank believes that these skills that his students gain by participating in the telepresence system will aid them in college academics where a less-structured academic environment prevails.

In all of his classes, Cruikshank aspires to instill a love for the Classics in all of his students.  He sparks an interest in these studies through Greco-Roman culture. “I found that the culture of Greece and Rome is infinitely interesting,” he stated.  By studying Greco-Roman culture, students are able to draw parallels with other cultures; they are able to see how one culture affected the development of several others in various aspects, which sparks an interest to learn more.  

Cruikshank continues his grammar lessons via the book’s stories at Citrus Valley High School in January 2019. Here, he is emphasizing the endings of nominatives and accusatives. (Ethic Photo)

Becoming well-versed in the Classics has numerous other benefits for students in other areas of study.  “Classics has that wonderful aspect that it really does reach into other subjects,” Cruikshank said, “When you are learning Latin, you learn important things that relate to your government class and your English class.”  Through the Classics, students are better able to thoroughly analyze information they get in other classes as the Classics trains the mind to do one thing exceedingly well: think critically.

Cruikshank believes that the joy of doing and succeeding in something different is also what leads many students to enjoy the Classics.  The subject also allows students to really explore and express who they are. “It allows you to be yourself, explore yourself,” Cruikshank stated.  

When teaching his classes, Cruikshank firmly believes that the culture of Rome and Greece must be taught with the Latin to give the student full exposure to the Classics.  “The language exists in tandem with the culture,” he said.

The unique position that Cruikshank’s telepresence classes put him in have allowed him to see the effects of the CLASS and REV WAY school honor codes in each respective school.  According to Cruikshank, the two different school honor codes have produced school cultures that share more in common than not. “Kids are kids at the end of the day,” Cruikshank noted.  

When talking about REV’s culture, Cruikshank states, “REV has got a certain type of independency that I think is unique to REV.”  He also noticed that REV students had a go getter attitude when they quickly established a REV Latin Club right when he joined. Citrus Valley also has a sense of independence and a strong dedication to academics, which is very similar to REV.

For the REV and Citrus Valley students in his class, he believes that a combination of each school’s respective honor code and the telepresence system contributed to the distinct school cultures he perceives through them.  Both things have fostered independence in the students as well as confidence in their abilities. “I think it’s a product of the telepresence and school cultures,” he said, “Telepresence might bring it out in the student.”

When asked whether the CLASS and REV WAY systems have achieved their aims, Cruikshank replied, “They have been very successful.  At the end of the day, they are producing good things.” However, he notes that “we have yet to see full fruits from them.” Cruikshank attributes the systematic nature of the school honor codes to their success saying, “Most every student … knows the tenets.”  

Cruikshank says that he would not change a thing about the school honor codes as they are.  “They are very basic, very good things every student should foster,” he stated. He especially likes how both schools recognize students that embody a quality promoted by their respective honor codes, which he hopes they continue to do.

In his classroom, Cruikshank tries to “foster a more neutral zone.”  Since he has students from both REV and Citrus Valley, Cruikshank tries to unite both groups through their common love of Latin.  “We are Redlands united; we are a unique program.”

Steven Cruikshank at the smart board in his telepresence classroom at Citrus Valley.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s