UNESCO Associated Schools teacher wins prestigious U.S. award

5000 students at Three Rivers ASPnet School have witnessed the naturalization of over 500 U.S. citizens

Marney Murphy, a prominent member of UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet) in the United States, has won the Beveridge Family Teaching Prize. Awarded by the American Historical Association, the largest and most prestigious organization of professional historians in the world, the prize rewards excellence and innovation in primary and secondary history teaching.

The Beveridge prize specifically recognizes Marney’s initiative to host naturalization ceremonies at her school - Three Rivers Middle School in Cleves, Ohio - and the multidisciplinary curriculum she developed around these ceremonies: both theoretical (intercultural education and civics) and practical (demanding a high level of teamwork and organizational skills).  

“It all started when a friend invited me to her naturalization ceremony at the local courthouse,” Marney remembers. “I learned that the procedure can take place in any U.S. public building, which it temporarily becomes a federal courtroom during the ceremony. I consulted the school, then I contacted the federal court system asking if they would hold their next nationalization ceremony at Three Rivers Middle School.  They accepted, and two years later 85 people from 36 countries became U.S. citizens on the school premises.” So began a 17-year campaign that has seen 5000 students at Three Rivers Middle School witness the naturalization of over 500 citizens. 

The aim of this “real-world learning experience”, she explains, was to educate middle and high school students about the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, the naturalization process and the importance of “giving back” through community service. 

Marney involved her classes and the whole school in all aspects of planning, preparation and execution of the project. “First of all, finding out about the naturalization process; writing to federal authorities get the necessary permissions; taking the same tests that prospective citizens take; learning about the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, taking the same test a new citizen must pass and researching the countries of origin of the prospective new citizens, including a few words in their own languages.” 

What about the practical side?

“Students acquire organizational skills and learn about events planning, including inviting a keynote speaker, finalizing the programme, issuing invitations – including to the media, setting up and testing up a sound system, catering a small reception to honour the new citizens with their families and friends and organizing a full rehearsal before the event. Oh, and  writing thank-you letters to court officials and to the new citizens afterwards!” 

The first ceremony in 1987 went off without a hitch. New citizens and their families were greeted by students. The school orchestra and choir performed before/after the immigrants tool the U.S. Oath of Allegiance.  Guest speakers are often naturalized citizens, like TV personality Jerry Springer or human rights activist, Holocaust survivor Gerda Weissman Klein, who subsequently founded Citizenship Counts, a national programme inspired by Marney's initiative. Thanks to media coverage, schools in Ohio and other U.S. states have organized naturalization ceremonies following the model established at Three Rivers. Educators from Sweden and England have expressed interest in adapting it to their respective countries. 

Many students have maintained relationships with ‘their” new citizens, recounts Marney. “One said ‘I rooted for Brazil during the Olympic Games because of the guy I met at the naturalization ceremony’, and past pupils often ask if the ceremony still being held, saying it helped them realize that they were a part of a larger world”. Marney points out that following natural disasters, students are quick to initiate relief for the country concerned.  The ceremony has even resulted in career choices: two former students have become U.S. marshals. 

Throughout her career, Marney has initiated educational projects and activities whose multiplier effect have gone well beyond her school. Other initiatives she has shared with teachers in the 9000-strong ASP school network, relate to the Transatlantic Slave Trade (TST) Education Project, which she helped launch in the U.S., and Holocaust Remembrance. Her many friends in the ASPnet and TST networks admire her commitment and service to UNESCO ideals. Her creativity and imagination have inspired teachers at UNESCO workshops in all regions of the world. 

Spreading good practices is a key element of ASPnet to promote quality education in the framework of Education for All. Its Good Practices series of publications promotes outstanding projects conducted by ASPnet schools worldwide relating to four main study themes (UN Priorities; Education for Sustainable Development; peace and human rights and intercultural learning).

Related Links

The Beveridge Family Teaching Prize (K-12)

UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet)

ASPnet Good Practices Collection 

Citizenship Counts 

Etiquette guide for ceremonies (Citizenship Counts)





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