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Ygnacio Valley HS history teacher joins his wife, a College Now history teacher, as a James Madison Memorial Fellow
Posted 5/22/23

Erica and Bryan Shaw

Ygnacio Valley HS history and ethnic studies teacher Bryan Shaw, above right, has been selected a 2023 James Madison Memorial Fellow following in the footsteps of his wife, College Now history teacher Erica Shaw, above left, who was chosen as a James Madison Memorial Fellow in 2022.

Erica and Bryan in their classrooms

By Theresa Harrington Brandt
MDUSD Public Information Officer


You've probably heard of a "match made in heaven." But in MDUSD, teachers Bryan and Erica Shaw could be considered "a match made in history." 


They met while they were both teaching history at Mt. Diablo HS in 2009. "That's what brought us together," Bryan said with a smile. After a whirlwind romance, they married in 2010 and started a family. Erica now teaches 11th grade U.S. History, senior Government and Economics, and AVID in the College Now program at Diablo Valley College and Bryan teaches social studies and ethnic studies in the Education Academy at Ygnacio Valley High School.


As lifelong learners themselves, both Bryan and Erica are always searching for history-related information that they can share with each other and their students. This led Erica to apply for a James Madison Memorial Fellowship, which she received last year, to pursue a master's degree in U.S. history with an emphasis on the U.S. Constitution. This year, Bryan was selected as a 2023 fellow, following in Erica's footsteps. Both are studying through an online Gettysburg College program in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.


Heralded as "America’s most prestigious award in constitutional history and government for secondary teachers," the fellowship provides recipients with up to $24,000 each to pursue a master's degree in a program that includes "courses on the history and principles of the Constitution" in recognition of President James Madison's reputation as the "Father of the Constitution and Bill of Rights."


"The program is magical place where I get to learn history just for myself," Erica said, adding that much of what she learns helps to inform her teaching in MDUSD, such as a recent "historiography" course that looked at how scholars have studied issues such as the New Deal. One point now being addressed that was not considered 15 or 20 years ago, she said, is who didn't have access to New Deal programs.


After seeing how rigorous the fellowship was, Bryan decided he wanted to take on the same challenge as Erica, in part, "to prove that I can do it." This mindset is something he sees his own students grappling with when they take on rigorous projects. "Erica and I are both pushing ourselves and trying new things," Bryan said, adding that this helps their children and their students to see them as learner role models. 


The pair are so engrossed in history that they discussed the relative merits of Communism during their first dance together at their wedding, they are both members of the UC Berkeley History-Social Science Project, and they regularly discuss history at home with their family. They wrote their own history curriculum, which relies heavily on primary source materials instead of textbooks and requires students to think critically about their roles in creating today's history.


"Teaching gives us the opportunity to help students realize they have a voice that deserves to be heard," Erica said. "That is why I love history so much, because history is full of people who have fought to have their voices heard - and helping students see themselves in the history of the past is something I just love to do."


Bryan said he likes "helping students learn how to think." He recalls being required to memorize a lot of dry, boring facts in his high school history classes. But that's not what he requires from his students. In both his history and ethnic studies classes, he wants students to "understand where they fit into the narrative today and have conversations with their parents" about this. Regarding the fellowship, he said: "I love history, but my strength is not the Constitution, so I'm excited to learn more about it."


Erica said having a firm understanding of the Constitution will help her better communicate to her students "what their rights are and what the ideals of this nation are" so they understand how to use their voices most effectively to advocate for themselves.


After a year in the program, Erica said she expects to be halfway through the 10 courses required by the end of this summer. Bryan wants to accelerate his studies during the summers so they can graduate and "walk the stage together."


Erica is excited by this prospect. "We're going to hold hands and be so cute," she said.


Click on the tweets below to see how Erica started her fellowship and read kudos from the UCB History-Social Science Project.


Erica starts MA program

UCB History-Social Science Project tweet