Ripley High School social studies teacher, Tabatha Craddock, has joined an exclusive group of West Virginia educators. She is the 19th recipient of the James Madison Fellowship from the mountain state.

The James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation, established by an act of Congress in 1986., offers a $24,000 fellowship for “individuals to become outstanding teachers of the American Constitution at the secondary school level.” One teacher from each state is chosen to receive this highly sought-after fellowship. The application process included an essay on the importance of teaching the Constitution.

For Craddock, who teaches United States history, civics and Advanced Placement (AP) government, instilling the foundation of America and the underlying principles of government in her students is a passion.

“Civics is one of the most important classes a student can ever take,” she said. “It teaches how government is supposed to work, what it can do and what it cannot do. These are important lessons to learn any time, but now more than ever.”

The Fellowship can be applied to an undergraduate or graduate degree. Craddock, who received her bachelor’s degree from Marshall University, will earn her Master of Arts in history and government from Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. Teaching for one full year for each academic year of funding is one requirement of a Madison Fellow.

“I was fortunate to receive a Buchwald Fellowship in 2018 that allowed me to take a class on the Federalist Papers at Ashland,” Craddock said. “I found I loved the campus and the people. Since the university works closely with the Madison Foundation, it was the perfect choice for me.”

While Craddock is looking forward to making her students’ learning experience richer, she also approaches this opportunity with personal growth in mind.

“The classes I’ve taken so far have given such a different perspective on our history,” she said.

Since January, Craddock has taken three classes, including the Progressive Era, contemporary America which covers the time from the Nixon to the beginning of the Trump presidency and the American Revolution. She also received credit for the prior class on the Federalist papers.

“The progressive era from around 1912 to a bit of the Wilson presidency is one I hadn’t spent too much time on,” she said. “One of the neatest things we did was role-play where we had to research our real-life character and debate as that person. I was Lyman Abbott, a Congregationalist minister, whose speech was against women voting. You can imagine how tough that was for me.”

The master’s program is a rigorous one. This summer, Craddock has been taking classes online, with video conferences Monday through Thursday. Some classes will be on campus at the university. She will also attend a summer seminar at Georgetown which will apply six hours to her degree.

“There are five hours or more of readings each day,” she said. “They are all primary source documents which makes them a bit more challenging. Reading the exact words of the writer, not an interpretation or a summary, gives a different feel, a deeper understanding of the thoughts of those who shaped this country.”

Discussion is a great part of the process in her course of study.

“Most classes give sources, require the reading, then follow up with discussion,” Craddock explained. “The teacher navigates but doesn’t dominate.”

Craddock says without the Madison Fellowship she would be unable to complete her masters.

“It’s a financial blessing to receive this,” she said. “But it’s also a huge honor to represent the state of West Virginia. And Ripley High School is now the only West Virginia school to have two recipients. Adena Barnette, who encouraged me to apply, received it in 2011.”

Barnette couldn’t be more enthusiastic in her endorsement of the Fellowship or encouragement for her friend.

“It’s opened so many doors for me including studying under the greatest Constitutional experts in our country,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t utilize something I learned at the Madison Fellowship. I was thrilled that Tabatha received the award this year.”

One requirement of the Foundation’s application process is letters of recommendation. Craddock values one that she received above all others.

“My principal, (the late) Beverly Shatto wrote me a beautiful recommendation,” Craddock said. “She gave me a copy and I will treasure it forever.”

Craddock also received another correspondence that has meaning for her.

“Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert sent me a hand-written note,” she said proudly. “He congratulated me as a “daughter of Marshall” for the award. I was very touched.”