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Pa. schools awarded hefty history grant

June 02, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Franklin County, Pa., schools have been awarded nearly $1 million in federal grants to provide professional development opportunities for more than 100 history teachers, eight of whom are looking at the possibility of studying at universities including Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Oxford and Cambridge.

The schools received a comparable amount of funding three years ago to allow educators to further their knowledge about the 18th and 19th centuries. The participants, averaging 150 a year, also studied the 20th century up to the Civil Rights Movement, program coordinator Mike Meier said.

"It's giving teachers an opportunity to have experiences in their field that usually they wouldn't have," he said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., announced on Thursday that $936,011 will be allocated to Franklin County over three years through the Teaching American History program and U.S. Department of Education.

"History in our children's classrooms can provide a valuable perspective as students learn about our Founding Fathers or the Constitution or the battles where America earned her freedoms, liberties and independence," Shuster, a history major at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., said in a news release.

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"Our teachers will just have amazing opportunities," said Executive Director of the Greencastle-Antrim Education Foundation Ginny Lays, who wrote the grant.

Lessons will come through local entities like the Allison-Antrim Museum and Waynesboro Area Industrial Heritage Trust and intensives at the universities through the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Other lessons come through a new media classroom that is "a new area where they have to look at new ways to approach an old subject," said Meier, a retired school administrator.

They'll focus on topics like World War II, the Great Depression and Cold War, according to Meier.

"It gives them an opportunity to develop lessons, ideas to take into the classroom. It's been a wonderful thing, especially for the new teacher," he said.

"It's been able to help me become a more effective teacher," said John Lum, a teacher at James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa.

He is reading two books about Dwight D. Eisenhower in preparation for seminars and a summer institute in Gettysburg, Pa. Following that, he plans to travel to Washington, D.C., for classes on the history of how the city and monuments were built, tours of famous houses and a trip to the Dulles Air and Space Museum (officially named the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center).

These are opportunities that individual teachers as well as the school districts usually couldn't afford, Lum said.

"It's a great opportunity. ... For a history teacher, this is like a dream come true. For us to be able to go and benefit is just awesome," he said.

Lum has especially enjoyed presentations through the National Council for History Education.

"They just have really knowledgeable people, usually college professors, who come in and speak on a specific topic," he said.

Those topics, such as the views of minority groups in certain eras, mean "you are forced to look at things in a different way," Lum said.

In addition to teachers from secondary schools, alternative education teachers and research librarians have taken advantage of the resources, Meier said.

The grant was written for the Chambersburg Area, Greencastle-Antrim, Waynesboro Area, Fannett-Metal, Shippensburg Area and Tuscarora school districts and Scotland School for Veterans' Children, Lays said.

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