- Sponsorship -

World History Comes Alive in Classroom; Students Inspired to Pack Their Bags

In World History teacher Betsy Rybarczyk’s classroom, students are challenged to use their imaginations to envision themselves in historical settings around the globe. On any given day, the room could become part of the Italian Renaissance; 1500s England; Christmas Eve, 1914, in Europe. “Your imagination is your only limitation, so seize the day,” she recently told her Comstock Park High School class.

But it seems that Rybarczyck’s imagination has no limitations. Students have arrived to find her dressed in full Army fatigues, yelling to her “soldiers” to get down low to avoid enemy fire.

“I start screaming, ‘Get in the trenches!'” A fog machine starts as students hide under their desks and a recorded battle plays on. Suddenly the gunfire stops, and Rybarczyk says, “What was that? What was that?” The faint sound of people singing “Silent Night” gets louder and louder.

The reenactment of the Christmas Truce of 1914 invokes the emotion of when thousands of British, Belgian and French soldiers put down their rifles, stepped out of their trenches and spent Christmas mingling with German enemies along the Western front.

Betsy Rybarczyk’s World History class touches on many places she’s traveled to around the globe
Betsy Rybarczyk’s World History class touches on many places she’s traveled to around the globe

Living History

Rybarczyk has also been known to don a hooded robe to present a dramatic monologue as Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, before her beheading. She’s turned her classroom into a monastery under a vow of silence; she’s sent students on James Bond-style missions, searching the school to uncover clues related to a history lesson.

An intrepid world traveler, Rybarczyk bought a plane ticket to Europe at age 18 to tour by herself. Since then, she’s visited 41 countries. She has taught in Comstock Park for 14 years and, before that, spent a year teaching at an international school in Prague.

“History comes alive in my classroom, because I have traveled to so many places that I am required to teach about,” she said. “When I have to teach about places like the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, or The Great Pyramids I am able to take my kids there vicariously through my experiences and stories. Travel has shaped who I have become as a person; it is my hope that I may play some small role in shaping my students’ lives by exposing them to international experiences,” she said.

Junior Alyssa Yost said Rybarczyk is fascinating. “She gets you caught up in the moment of her stories. She makes you feel like you are there,” Yost said. ” She connects real life through what’s happening right now with history, and she does it very well. I don’t know anyone else who’s been to 41 countries and can tell you what she’s seen with her own eyes.”

Posters on the classroom walls invite students to travel abroad with Rybarczyk
Posters on the classroom walls invite students to travel abroad with Rybarczyk

From Classroom to Countries Far and Wide

During a recent class period, Rybarczyk announced a special day tied to the Renaissance art students were studying.

“It’s Michelangelo’s birthday,” she said, showing them a picture of the Pieta, a sculpture of the body of Jesus on the lap of Mary, which is housed in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

There’s a good chance some of Rybarczyk’s students will see in person the sculpture, the only piece artist Michelangelo Buonarroti ever signed. Every year, she takes students overseas by partnering with the company EF Tours. She’s embarking with students to London, Paris, Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento and the island of Capri this Spring Break; and to Australia and New Zealand in June. Trips to Costa Rica, Italy and Greece are planned in 2016.

She brought students on a Holocaust Tour last year of Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow and Prague. In 2012 and 2013, students accompanied her to Europe, and even got to meet with high-level diplomatic officials at the American Embassy in Paris.

“Previously, I was limited to making history come alive through only my personal stories, but now, I am able to take my students literally around the world,” she said. “Not only will students experience the history and culture of the incredible countries we travel to, but they are becoming global citizens and their eyes are being opened to a whole new world of opportunity. The vast majority of my students go on to seek study-abroad programs when they are in college, due in part, to the exposure they received on one of my trips.”

Sophomores Sierra Vroma and Abbey Downer plans to go on the trip to Costa Rica next year.

“Mrs. Rybarczyk knows everything,” Vroma said. “She’s crazy smart. She always excited, never boring and she really gets into her teaching.”

“She’s seen everything,” Downer added.


Educational Tours

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


Fourth-grade hockey fan gets a magical hour on ice: ‘I made the shot!’

Raised as a Red Wings and Grand Rapids Griffins hockey fan, Jackson Solow lights up while skating on an ice rink wearing his favorite hockey jersey...

‘This time it is continued learning’

One school’s switch from in-person to virtual education last week was nearly seamless, especially when compared with the forced school closure in March...

Foundation grants $28,285 in fall funding requests

Virtual phys ed and art experiences, materials to improve classroom focus and books on social issues aimed at middle-schoolers are among the grants approved this fall...

Latest school closings expand on state-ordered high school mandate

More Kent County districts continue to announce temporary school building closures, as schools contend with a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases in Kent County and Michigan...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Comstock Park closes all schools for in-person instruction

Dave Washburn, superintendent of Comstock Park Schools, said the decision to go all-virtual was made due to the number of positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students, as well as the number of staff and students quarantined...

Laughter, lessons & support for virtual students, parents

Key to learning from home: get outside, be safely social and find ways to bond, moms say...

Superheroes, jungle explorers, Cinderella join virtual kindergarten lessons

As an all-virtual kindergarten teacher at Stoney Creek Elementary, Tiffany Imhoff is constantly adapting and tweaking her lessons to keep her students engaged and learning...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU