Teachers Explore America’s Key Events

July 12, 2005

Last summer, they acted out skits deconstructing events that led to the American Revolution and talked with the chief historian at Colonial National Historical Park at Yorktown. Next week, teachers from Staunton, Waynesboro, Augusta County, and Roanoke County will delve into the Civil War with a visit to Appomattox Court House, the Miller Center, and a special collections library at University of Virginia.

Middle and secondary teachers will begin the second year of The Institute for Decisive Events in American History June 27. The Institute is designed to challenge teachers to explore the major events that shaped the country to enable them to teach beyond textbooks in their classrooms.

“We received great feedback about how teachers are improving their lesson plans and rediscovering history,” said Amy Tillerson, instructor of history and director of the Institute. Each teacher earns three hours of graduate credit, a $500 stipend, and free textbooks for participating in the Institute.

Word is spreading rapidly about the program – the only one of its kind in the country – and paticipation is up from 29 in 2004 to 43 this year. The original grant that funds the program provides for three years of sessions, including two weeklong summer workshops and three shorter ones during the academic year.

This year’s first summer session, focusing on the Civil War, will be held at the Roanoke Higher Education Center, where Mary Baldwin operates a regional center for adult studies. The second session, at Mary Baldwin University, is set for July 11-15. It will explore domestic policy and politics from 1954 to 1973 and will be led by Tillerson. In addition to discussing five events that impacted our domestic policy, she will explore the role of oral history in documenting Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements and the Vietnam War. Plantiffs in the Brown vs. Board of Education case and others who witnessed Virginia’s “massive resistance” to integration will be featured speakers.

The partnership between Mary Baldwin and local schools is part of the Teaching American History program, a $99 million federal grant that includes 175 school districts nationwide. Keller believes the workshops will generate “enthusiastic and convincing American history teachers.” The Institute was created by Keller and local public school officials with the aid of a $700,000 U.S. Department of Education grant awarded in Fall 2003.