University of Rochester

Teaching American History Gets Transformation with Grant

November 8, 2001

A collaboration of local educational institutions has received a three-year, $921,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to plan and implement a professional development program for 120 urban and suburban K-12 social studies and history teachers. The program will engage teachers as learners and researchers of history to prepare them to teach their students to think more critically and to use a multi-disciplinary approach while studying historical events.

Monroe #1 BOCES in Fairport will administer and evaluate grant activities as well as take the lead role in recruiting teachers for this professional development program. BOCES is a state-supported institution that provides unique educational resources to 10 suburban school districts that enroll nearly 50,000 students. The Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development at the University of Rochester, through its Social Studies Program and its newly-created Center for Professional Development and Education Reform, will work collaboratively with the Department of History to design and provide professional development for the "American History as Dialogue" program.

Ellen Santora, assistant professor of social studies education at the Warner School, will direct this professional development program. "Many of the elementary, middle school, and high school teachers who will participate talk about and teach history, but have never experienced 'doing history,' " explained Santora. "I am thrilled by this opportunity to enhance their knowledge of history by engaging them in the work of historians. As a result, we hope it will be easier for them to actively involve students in exploring the highly contentious and dynamic nature of historical interpretation."

Teachers who participate will attend summer institutes where they will conduct research as "apprentices" to historians. During the school year, teachers will participate in regular follow-up sessions, develop and test curriculum, and visit area museums and historical sites to expand their knowledge of local historical resources. The sites with historical significance will include the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls and the George Eastman House and International Museum of Photography in Rochester.

"We are excited to be part of this creative and valuable partnership with the Warner School on behalf of area school districts and the community," commented Gregory Vogt, Monroe #1 BOCES superintendent. "Implementing a key program that enhances professional development for teachers and, at the same time, improves the delivery of American history instruction in the classroom, is a real win-win situation."

Other key collaborators for the grant are the Rochester City School District Teacher Center; the Greater Rochester School Support Center; BOCES #2 in Spencerport; Genesee Valley BOCES in LeRoy; and Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES in Newark.

The Department of History at the University of Rochester will develop the historical content for the program and provide faculty historians to teach classes and perform research with the teacher-learners. The University also will provide instructional facilities and access to its libraries and collections of rare documents. The other program partners will recruit teachers to participate.

Internet tools-a new Web site and e-mail network-will provide ongoing interactive communications among participants and faculty, and offer information to other institutions locally and nationwide. "The project has the potential to shift teachers' view of history as a 'story well told' to understanding history as a story whose telling requires struggling over issues of interpretation and significance," said Santora.