In Bob Low's government and economics classes at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, students don't just read about the Constitution or the stock market; they experience them.
Always looking for ways to stretch his students' abilities, Low took 20 students from his American government class to Sacramento in January for a statewide contest on the U.S. Constitution. The group of teen-agers--18 of whom were born in Southeast Asia--placed among the top seven teams in the state.
In an economics class, Low gives each student an imaginary account of $100,000 at the beginning of the semester and teaches them how to research companies and invest in the market.
It was innovative teaching methods such as these that prompted a group of national educators to name Low as one of 31 teachers in the United States to be honored in a special television series featuring outstanding teachers.
The series, called "Disney Channel's Salute to the American Teacher," is scheduled to begin airing on cable television at 8 p.m. Wednesday, when First Lady Barbara Bush will be the host of a half-hour special introducing viewers to the program.
The series will profile one teacher a week in five-minute spots. The segment on Low is scheduled to air Jan. 8.
Low, 56, who is also mayor of Covina, was selected from among nearly 300 applicants nationwide, said Tam Andrews, a spokeswoman for Center for Civic Education, a Calabasas-based nonprofit organization that develops curricula for civics classes. The center helped the Disney Channel coordinate the selection of teachers for the series.
"I was excited," Low said, recalling his reaction when notified in April that he had been chosen as one of the honorees. "It's a chance to give the students some recognition."
Last semester, the Disney Channel spent a day at the high school filming Low teaching four of his classes. Producers also interviewed the students who competed in the contest on the U.S. Constitution.
Andrews said a group of nine education associations solicited names of teachers nationwide and then urged those nominated to submit applications. The 31 teachers to be profiled, including inner-city and private-school teachers from 20 states, represent a composite of the outstanding American teacher, she said.
The goal is to "focus on the positives in the American classroom," Andrews said. Program organizers hope that the television salute will generate public support for education, encourage teachers to stay in the profession and urge others to consider teaching as a career.
Applications from teachers were accompanied by recommendations from principals and colleagues, Andrews said.
"There is so much to Bob Low," Andrews said. "What he brings into the classroom is a very particular type of presence that's very reassuring to kids."
By example, Low teaches his students to be innovative and not to give up too easily.
When the Constitution contest team was short $1,100 for the Sacramento trip two days before the competition, Low advised his students to contact the Monterey Park Chamber of Commerce for donations. Chamber officials in Monterey Park, one of four cities served by the Alhambra School District, readily agreed to help.
Teaching at a school where many of the students are Southeast Asians who fled their war-torn homelands in small boats, Low said he tried to design lessons that help students draw from their own experiences to understand the Constitution and American government.
For example, as part of the final examination in his American government class, Low asked groups of students to discuss and analyze a Paul Conrad political cartoon in which American taxpayers were stranded on a rickety boat representing the savings and loan industry. The exercise triggered memories for many students and elicited insightful comments, he said.
Low, who graduated from Cal State Los Angeles with a degree in social studies, has spent all but one year of his teaching career at Mark Keppel, where he began as a student teacher in 1957.
As mayor of Covina, Low practices what he preaches about civic duty--he is completing his 12th year on the council.