Project boosts teachers' US history knowledge

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News,Science and Technology

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) — Richmond-area teachers have completed the second of a three-year $500,000 Teaching American History Grant project and have a website and resource library to show for it.

Dozens of teachers from Richmond and Centerville have compiled resources through research and field experiences across the country and now want their peers to benefit from it.

"This is a product, really, of our teachers," said Susie Hively, a now-retired teacher and principal who co-wrote the grant in 2010. "They have received technology that enables them to archive documents, pictures, video and interviews that go along and support their units of instruction.

"So on this website, there are all these archival types of resources as well as the units that were designed by the teachers as well as some professional development modules that the teachers designed.

"Our teachers are just thrilled with the idea that someone would come on to the website and borrow their stuff," Hively told the Palladium-Item (http://pinews.co/TYXiE0 ).

Richmond Community Schools, in partnership with Indiana University East and the Wayne County Historical Museum, received the grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2010.

The grant was established to raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge, understanding and appreciation of American history, according to the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University, a partnering institution of the grant program.

The grant was created at the urging of the late U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia to address his concern that students did not have adequate knowledge of traditional topics in American history, the center said.

"Honestly, in this age of accountability, we've focused really heavily on reading and math, and those are the most important skills, but you also need to be able to apply those skills to a content area," Hively said. "In order to really get the kids the basics, that's been sacrificed.

"When I was teaching in the beginning of my career in the '70s and '80s, part of the fun of school was that teacher that had a teepee in their classroom or built a rainforest in the hallway," she said. "Those are the things that kids really remember. With the standards movement, some of those things have been let go."

To that end, the grant participants hope their work and experiences will help teachers add new splashes of creativity to their lesson plans.

"When I teach anything to do with history, I see the students' eyes light up," said Michelle Hilbert, a two-year grant participant and a third-grade teacher at Charles Elementary School. "They want to hear the stories. They want to know the past.

"History is not just reading a book and answering questions. It is making the stories come alive and finding ways to make it meaningful to students."

The new website and resource library, which is available at IU East's library in Hayes Hall, has content for K-12 teachers. It is focused on the teaching of 19th and 20th Century American history and regional, state and national issues of transportation, communication, entrepreneurship and economics.

"We went to so many places and had so many opportunities," Hilbert said. "Our trips included the Freedom Center in Cincinnati, the Mohamed Ali Center in Louisville, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, and so much more.

"We saw buildings and places where history was made," she said. "Some people never get the opportunities to go to these places. Some people only get to read about these places. To actually be there just gives you chills and can even make you cry."

Over the past two years, participating teachers worked with staff at the Wayne County Historical Museum and the Indiana Historical Society to learn more about what each organization has to offer. The county historical museum also received funding from the grant to purchase a document camera and a laptop computer.

"The No. 1 goal for us was to get the local teachers that were teaching history familiar with the museum and also our resources that we have available," said Wayne County Historical Museum Executive Director Jim Harlan. "They spent a week here each year in the museum studying and going back into our records. We helped them with research.

"Now, they are very familiar with what we have and what resources we can bring together," he said.

Harlan said he and the founders of the museum want students to visit the museum more frequently. Much like the teachers who participated in the grant project, the museum, with help from a retired teacher, also has developed curricula that is aligned to Indiana standards for teachers in kindergarten through the sixth grade.

"We just feel like (the schools) are not utilizing the museum to the full extent," Harlan said. "We're trying to remove all obstacles in making a trip to see us."

Hively said a new group of eight teachers will be on board for the grant's final year. Originally, Hively said, RCS was approved for a five-year grant cycle, but the last two years were not funded amid the national recession.

"It's really fantastic that we have the website and the lending resource library," Hively said. "Those two things will sustain the grant into the future."

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Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com

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