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Gig Harbor resident earns prestigious James Madison Fellowship

Gig Harbor resident and Charles Wright Academy history teacher Laryssa Schmidt was recently named as one of 53 recipients to earn a renowned James Madison Fellowship this year.
Gig Harbor resident and Charles Wright Academy history teacher Laryssa Schmidt was recently named as one of 53 recipients to earn a renowned James Madison Fellowship this year. Courtesy

Gig Harbor resident and Charles Wright Academy history teacher Laryssa Schmidt loves engaging her students in deep discussions and analysis in the classroom when it comes to important current and historical topics.

“What is truly satisfying is watching them connect past events to what is happening in our country today and recognizing that history is not made up of isolated or static events,” Schmidt, 45, said. “In the end, they take away a deeper understanding of those topics.”

Now she will be able to bring even more to the table as part of those conversations with her high school juniors and seniors.

Schmidt was recently named as one of 53 recipients to earn a renowned James Madison Fellowship this year.

The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation of Alexandria, Virginia awards the fellowship to support the further study of American history for college graduates who aspire to become teachers and for those who are already experienced teachers, such as Schmidt. This year marks the 26th year of the fellowship competition.

“I’m still processing it all but I’m really excited to go forward and improve my teaching practices and be able to bring more to the classroom,” Schmidt said.

The award is intended to recognize promising and distinguished teachers and give them the ability to strengthen their knowledge of American constitutional government and in turn, pass that knowledge on to their students.

“Laryssa came to teaching later in life but she has really worked hard to refine her skills,” said Charles Wright Academy Upper School Head Bill White. “I can’t tell you how happy, proud, and excited I am for her to pursue her passion and bring it back to the classroom.”

Schmidt learned about the James Madison Fellowship from other teachers at conferences she had attended over the years, but said she was not ready to take it on until this year.

“The application was essentially a lot of writing,” said Schmidt. “I had to include my educational background and then answer a series of prompts based on the purpose of teaching the constitution in secondary school. I had to write why that was important to me and give an idea of what I planned to do with the money should I win.”

The fellowship money will fund up to $24,000 of Schmidt’s studies toward a master’s degree. The program she chooses must include a concentration of courses on the history and principles of the U.S. Constitution.

Schmidt is already enrolled at Ashland University in Ohio and will pursue her degree online, only needing to physically be on campus a few times. Her plan is to continue teaching at Charles Wright Academy throughout her master’s program and after she completes it.

“Earning this fellowship is a great testament to her academic abilities and perseverance,” said Charles Wright Academy History Department Chair Dave Adams. “It also means that our students will be exposed to her knowledge about U.S. history.”

“Students see her as someone who is very passionate about the subjects she teaches and what she believes,” White added.

Being a recipient of the James Madison Fellowship is sure to have a lasting impact for the better on Schmidt and her students at Charles Wright Academy.

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