Students Undertake a “Big Dig” in Government & Politics

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Students Undertake a “Big Dig” in Government & Politics
Phil Kantaros, Social Studies Teacher

Yearlong research project yields insight and in-depth experience for students with a passion for government and politics.

In March 2018, the first group of students in the newly created seminar meets with the House Sergeant at Arms, Paul Irving, during their trip to Washington, D.C.


In 2017, a generous grant from the John William Pope Foundation provided funding for the Upper School History and Social Studies Department to expand their offerings and give students the opportunity to dig more deeply into topics around government and politics. Each year since, students have benefited from access to additional courses, resources and programs that enrich their learning. In the 2019-20 school year, we were able to split two courses that had previously been combined — Advanced Studies in Government & Politics and Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics — which has allowed us to better address the topics of each. 

In the Advanced Studies course, students take advantage of print subscriptions to “The Economist” magazine to gain deeper insights into today’s most pressing global issues: the impact of globalization, nationalism and supranationalism, regional alliances and fault lines, demographic change, China’s attempt to gain hegemonic status in countries around the world through its Belt & Road Initiative, and many more topics. This exposure ensures that Advanced Studies students are better equipped to analyze and to compare and contrast public policy and governance in the United States with political realities in many other nations. In addition, we read several chapters in “Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom” by Condoleezza Rice. From Russia to Colombia to Kenya, we read, discuss, debate and understand at a much deeper level the obstacles a nation must overcome in order to become democratic in both principle and practice. 

During the 2018 Washington, D.C. trip, students participate in a foreign policy crisis simulation at the State Department.

Last year we also implemented the “Big Dig” research project, a yearlong, 25-30-page research paper on a current topic in North Carolina. Despite the monumental change that came in March when the entire school moved to virtual learning, our student scholars completed their Big Dig projects. The College Counseling office reports that, in writing college recommendation letters, they used this experience to highlight the academic rigor that these seniors chose to embrace. In addition to traditional research, students made direct contact with individuals working in government, media, interest groups, academia and/or think tanks to further mine for information relevant to their chosen topics. Completing a project of this magnitude in high school better prepares our students to succeed and to take on similar challenges in college and beyond. 

Many of our seniors submitted truly impressive pieces of scholarship. For example, Sky Wiseman ’20 focused on Airbnb regulations in Raleigh and what should be done by the government to make the Airbnb process run more smoothly. Eleanor Campbell ’20 delved into pros and cons of gentrification in Raleigh’s downtown neighborhoods. Ted Bossong ’20 took up the issue of “right to repair” in North Carolina, writing, “The Right to Repair is a multi-state push to require consumer goods manufacturers to provide repair information, diagnostic tools, and affordable replacement parts to third-party repair firms or directly to consumers.” Lauren Carter ’20 focused on the ways that North Carolina can address its rural healthcare problems. Rhett Parham ’20 took a very balanced approach to the controversial issue of gillnet fishing off the North Carolina coast.

Students enrolled in the course in 2018-19 work closely in a seminar-style room.

As this year’s Advanced Studies students get their “Big Dig” research projects underway, we continue a focus on local and state issues. Read some proposed topics below — and stay tuned for updates on their progress in the months to come.

  • The lack of adequate healthcare provided to Native Americans in North Carolina

  • Preparing and supporting children as they age out of the North Carolina foster care system

  • The Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) programs in North Carolina

  • The use of tax incentives to attract businesses in North Carolina

  • Wealth disparity and economic mobility in North Carolina

  • Addressing wrongful convictions within the state of North Carolina

  • Water resource pollution in North Carolina

  • Managing the opioid crisis in North Carolina

  • Reintegration policies for ex-convicts within North Carolina