Students of Catholic Central High School in Burlington visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 2021 during a week-long, multi-state visit of historic sites important to civil rights. Dan Meddaugh (center in front) is the history teacher who coordinates the trip scheduled every other year. (Submitted photo)
While attending Catholic Central High School, graduate Nora Maus found that a unique school trip brought civil rights history to life.
The multi-state itinerary prepared by social studies teacher Dan Meddaugh for the 2017 trip included visiting former slave quarters that remain in the backyard of a house.
“We looked through the small building and heard of the horrible acts of violence that occurred in that space. We then walked to the front of the house, where we saw a statue of a Confederate general just across the street,” she recalled. “This stark juxtaposition showed how the lives, ideas and values still clash in many parts of the South.”
Alumni like Maus, a 2018 graduate of the Burlington school who completed a bachelor’s degree at Notre Dame University and is now at work on a master’s, often ask if the one-week civil rights trip and a weekend trip to Gettysburg are still being offered.
Social studies teacher Dan Meddaugh has offered the trips since he joined the Catholic Central staff 15 years ago.
He inherited the Gettysburg trip from his predecessor, who had offered it for four years before Meddaugh started at the school. He has continued to offer that weekend visit every spring to juniors enrolled in U.S. History, and it draws 35 to 40 students and about 15 parent chaperones.
Meddaugh began to offer a customized civil rights trip to all students in 2017, which he now offers every other year. This year, the week-long visit will take place the first week of November. It usually draws about 20 students and six parent chaperones.
“There’s a sense of awe and humility when you place yourself on hallowed ground that can’t be mimicked anywhere else. As an educator, to witness my students singing in the church that Rev. Dr. King pastored, or to reflect and pray for the four little girls killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in September 1963, this is authentic education and a joy to watch my students be active participants in their education,” he said.
“I see these trips as extensions of opportunities for the CCHS student body. My students are hungry for opportunities to learn, to learn about difficult topics in our history’s past. I don’t find it a surprise that the trips I take students on, all of them, are at sites where our country’s ideals were tested,” he added.
At least two seniors who have made both trips will do the civil rights one for a second time next month.
“This year, I have the chance to go with my brother and sister, who are freshmen. I am also going because Mr. Meddaugh says he has new and exciting things planned,” said one of them, Ava Fait of Lake Geneva.
She was especially touched by a visit two years ago to the motel where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
“It set the tone for the experience and touched deep on how these things we constantly hear about happened to real people in real places,” Fait said.
This meets one of Meddaugh’s goals — to bring personal stories to life.
“The reality is, these victims were individuals who had names, families, hopes, dreams — (who) in an instant lost it all. These names aren’t found in a video or a textbook and didn’t occur that long ago. I tell my students to find one and be that person’s historian. These names shouldn’t be lost to history; they need at least one person to remember them, to tell their story. It’s powerful, it’s difficult, but we can’t forget it,” Meddaugh said.
Meddaugh changes up parts of the civil rights trip every time, but it includes historical site and museum visits in Memphis and Nashville; many locations in Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee in Alabama; and some in Atlanta. The 2017 group even met former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter in Plains, Georgia.
“Visiting the Legacy Museum (in Montgomery, Alabama) was the most impactful part of the trip for me. The memorials to the victims of hate crimes had me in tears, and the whole experience was so emotional,” Catholic Central senior Josie Reesman said of her 2021 experience.
Maus now teaches at a Catholic school. She teaches second grade at St. Mary’s Academy in New Orleans as part of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education Teaching Fellows and is earning a master’s degree in education.
Maus, whose family belongs to St. Benedict Parish in Fontana, attended St. Francis de Sales School in Lake Geneva from K4 to eighth grade.
“When I went on the civil rights trip, it was my first time visiting that part of the South. Through visiting museums, having conversations with locals and eating local cuisine, I was able to learn about how the culture in the South contrasts with the culture in the Midwest,” Maus said.
That has already helped out in her life as an adult. “When I was sent to teach in New Orleans last year, I was very grateful that I had a taste of Southern culture before I moved here full time,” she said.
Maus also now speaks as a fellow teacher in saying, “Mr. Meddaugh is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, and goes above and beyond to provide his students an immersive and effective education.”
At A Glance: Catholic Central High School
148 McHenry St., Burlington
President and Principal: Brian Shimon
Admissions: Deanna Koch (262-763-1506)
Open House: Oct. 11, 5:30 to 8 p.m.