Students soak up state history

Officials say Tri-State fourth-graders and W.Va. eight-graders compare past, present

Officials say Tri-State fourth-graders and W.Va. eight-graders compare past, present

March 03, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Teachers in the Tri-State area sharpen students' state history skills with studies devoted to the Old Line State, Mountain State and Keystone State.

State history is taught to fourth-grade students in Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania public schools and again to eighth-grade students in West Virginia, school officials said.

Maryland's dynamic history has kept Becky Cline in the fourth grade for three decades.

The veteran social studies teacher at Clear Spring Elementary School looks forward each year to telling her students about their home state's Native American roots, pioneering religious tolerance, symbols, government and role in four wars and the building of a nation, she said.


"I love teaching Maryland," said Cline, who has been teaching in Clear Spring for 30 years. "This is the only time in their whole academic studies that students have an opportunity to learn about where they came from."

Cline's enthusiasm for state history is contagious. Her students "pick up on it and get spellbound," she said. "They really seem to enjoy it."

Cline keeps the subject interesting with historical stories, maps, films, visits from state politicians and trips to Fort Frederick State Park and Annapolis, she said.

Books such as "Our Maryland" by Jane Eagen and Jeanne McGinnis, "Maryland: Its Past and Present" by Richard Wilson and Jack Bridner and "The Maryland Adventure" by Suzanne Ellery Chapelle also help Washington County students learn more about their state, said James Newkirk, elementary reading/English language arts/social studies supervisor for the Washington County Board of Education.

Old Forge Elementary teacher Stephanie Pryor-Cooper calls "The Maryland Adventure" her bible for teaching state history. The text touches upon Maryland topics ranging from state economics to current conservation efforts, Pryor-Cooper said.

Her students especially enjoy comparing their state's past with its present, she said.

"They just think it's hysterical that there used to be a Lord Baltimore. It surprises them that there hasn't always been a governor," Pryor-Cooper said.

Fourth-grade students in Franklin County, Pa., learn state history from Pennsylvania's earliest settlers to recent events in the state, said Linda Grams, a teacher at Greencastle-Antrim Elementary School.

Students study the state's geographical features, government, key places and such important historical figures as William Penn, Benjamin Franklin and James Buchanan through readings, Internet research, role playing and other teaching strategies, Grams said.

An annual trip to the Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa., and nearby William Penn Museum of Natural History reinforces students' understanding of the state legislature and events, people and developments in Pennsylvania history, Grams said.

After studying state history for one semester during fourth grade, students in West Virginia public schools again focus on the Mountain State in eighth grade, said Ernie Dotson, instructional specialist for middle schools in Berkeley County, W.Va.

The full year of study includes units on state government, economics, geography and history, Dotson said.

Near the end of the school year, students have the opportunity to take a state test to qualify for the Golden Horseshoe award, which takes its name from the golden horseshoes given to the state's early explorers.

Virginia colony Gov. Alexander Spotswood in 1716 presented small golden horseshoes to about 50 men who set out to explore the land west of the Allegheny Mountains, most of which is now West Virginia.

Since 1931, top-achieving state history students have been honored at the state capitol as Knights or Ladies of the Golden Horseshoe Society.

"It's a really prestigious program and a real honor to receive the golden horseshoe," Dotson said.

Seven Berkeley County students, five Jefferson County students and three Morgan County students won golden horseshoes in 2002, according to the West Virginia Department of Education Web site.

The number of honorees in each county is based upon the county's eighth-grade student population, Dotson said.

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