Grant Helps Teachers Explore America’s Key Events

July 6, 2004

School’s out for summer. Well, almost.

Nearly two dozen teachers from Augusta and Roanoke counties and Staunton and Waynesboro cities were back in the classroom at Mary Baldwin mid-summer to boost their techniques for encouraging student interest in American history. “Our focus is to understand the events that really changed the course of America’s development and to make a distinction between those events that are purely interesting and those that profoundly affected the way the United States looks today,” said Katherine Brown, adjunct history professor at Mary Baldwin who led the first summer session on the Revolutionary Era.

Mary Baldwin History Professor Kenneth Keller secured a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education and worked with other local professionals to develop the curriculum for the Institute for Decisive Events in American History, a unique approach to teaching history that highlights the events that most influenced the country’s development — and covers material in the state’s Standards of Learning. For the next three years, teacher workshops and trips to many of Virginia’s historic sites will be based at the college.

“We’re going into a lot of detail with specific events and getting creative ideas about how to present the information,” said Sally Williams, a fourth-grade teacher at Riverheads Elementary School and a 1984 graduate of Mary Baldwin. “Meeting teachers from all over the area really helps you feel that you are not alone in your classroom.”

During the weeklong session, teachers acted out skits deconstructing the events leading up to the American Revolution, talked with the chief historian at Colonial National Historical Park at Yorktown, and developed a lesson plan for a decisive event of their choice.

High school teacher Kevin Clark spent his afternoons researching and finding primary documents for lesson on the battle of Lexington and Concord — a project he said he will use during the school year. “In teaching history, you have to remember that you are telling a story and the more interesting and real you can make that story, the better your students will understand it, “ he said.

The partnership between Mary Baldwin and local school districts is part of the national Teaching American History Program made possible by a $99 million federal grant that includes 175 school districts. Keller believes the workshops will create “ enthusiastic and convincing American history teachers.” Read a profile of Amy Tillerson, the Ph.D. candidate who was recently named the director of the institute and a history instructor at Mary Baldwin.

In addition to working with master teachers and Mary Baldwin faculty, participants will be able to earn up to three hours of graduate credit and develop Web sites on decisive events as part of the program. The next session, held July 12–16, will address decisive events in the struggle for women’s rights. Future classes focus on Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and the Marshall Court.