Former resident awarded Fullbright


GLOVERSVILLE — A former city resident will travel to the United Kingdom in January to begin conducting research after receiving a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant.

Ithaca High School social studies teacher Keith Thompson is one of approximately 35 U.S. citizens selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement to travel abroad through the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program in 2018-19.

Thompson will travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Jan. 2 to spend nearly six months researching how students develop and navigate their own political identities after spending the holidays in Gloversville with his family.

“It’s pretty exciting, but it’s a little bit intimidating,” Thompson said on Dec. 19. “I’ve never really been away from home and my family.”

Thompson grew up in Gloversville, graduating from Gloversville High School in 1992 before leaving the city to study anthropology at the University of Rochester. Thompson went on to receive his teaching certification in Rhode Island, before returning to New York to earn his master’s degree in administration from the State University of New York at Binghampton.

Thompson took a position at Ithaca High School where he currently teaches U.S. history and government and psychology, but he said he often visits his parents and other family members who still live in Gloversville and Johnstown.

“I’m there six or seven times a year, at least every month or two,” Thompson said.

Although he is nervous to spend several months living so far from home, Thompson said he is excited to begin researching how students develop political identities in the context of the currently divisive climate and possible ways to bridge the divide.

“I teach politics every year and found out that kids are struggling to understand modern politics. I kind of understand, because it’s more complicated and there’s more division. I’m trying to figure out why the division is increasing,” Thompson said.

Thompson began looking into different explanations for the growing divide in the U.S. and abroad, becoming interested in examining how other countries are reacting.

He ultimately wrote a research proposal, applying for a Fulbright grant to study the way schools in the U.K. have historically helped students bridge the divide. He learned in April that he was selected to receive the grant funded through the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

Thompson said he applied to study in Northern Ireland at the Centre for Shared Education at Queen’s Belfast due to the school’s efforts to build bridges between religious, social and economic divisions that swelled from the 1970s through the 1990s during The Troubles.

“There was warfare between different communities,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the Centre for Shared Education played a role in the peace process in Northern Ireland by bringing different classes together and he plans to examine how the efforts were developed and the possible applications at schools in the U.S.

“Political division is happening around the world, so I feel it’s important that we as educators discuss things that we can all do,” Thompson said.

Thompson will complete a written report after returning home in June, saying he plans to share and implement his findings over the next couple of years while resuming his teaching position in Ithaca.

Thompson said he will document his trip abroad, maintaining a blog and Instagram account to share his research and personal photos as he explores Ireland.

“When I was growing up in Gloversville I don’t think I ever thought I would be doing something like this, yet I find myself doing it,” Thompson said. “It’s really kind of weird, receiving a Fulbright is kind of like winning a gold medal.”

Thompson said the education and experience he received in Gloversville prepared him to take this step, but it would not have occurred to him to apply if not for the encouragement of another teacher at Ithaca High School, Steven Weissburg, who previously received a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant.

“I have to thank [Weissburg] one of my colleagues who went about 12 years ago, who kept saying what a great opportunity it was,” Thompson said. “And I want to let kids in Gloversville High School today know there is a huge amount of things possible and they could end up going on a Fulbright grant themselves some day.”

To keep up with Thompson while he is on his research trip abroad visit or follow him on Instagram at datteacherinni.

By Patricia Older

Leave a Reply