Thursday, September 23, 2010

Washougal School District receives $996,999 grant to improve teaching of American history

Washougal School District is one of just two districts in the state to receive a Teaching American History Grant from the Department of Education. The $996,999 grant will enhance teachers’ understanding of American history through intensive professional development, including study trips to historic sites and mentoring with professional historians and other experts.

The grant’s focus is on civil rights and while guaranteed for three years, may be extended to five, pending funding.

Though Washougal is the grant administrator, two other school districts—Evergreen and Ridgefield—are co-recipients and teachers from each of the three districts will benefit from the grant. Sixty teachers (20 per year of the grant) will participate in the grant.

Washougal just wrapped up a three-year history grant and the new grant will keep the ball rolling and build upon the progress that has been made over the past three years.

“We feel incredibly lucky,” said grant director Carol Boyden. “With the emphasis on state testing, history has lost some classroom emphasis. Thanks to this grant, we’re able to focus on teaching strategies to incorporate history into other subjects, such as reading and writing and keep history an integral part of our curriculum.”

A requirement of the grant is that districts must partner with organizations that have broad knowledge of American history, such as libraries, museums, nonprofit historical or humanities organizations, and higher education institutions.

History is one of the core academic subjects under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Through the grant, teachers learn directly from authors, historians and experts who not only share their knowledge during workshops, but also make themselves available as an ongoing resources throughout the year. Teachers share lessons and techniques among themselves, so they come away from each training session armed with several different lesson plans for different grade levels. Grant participants will also complete a weeklong summer study program.

A major grant partner is Washington State University, where Professor Laurie Mercier assisted with writing the grant and coordinates incoming professors and historians. Another active partner is the Clark County Historical Museum.

“This is the best professional development I’ve ever seen for teachers,” said Boyden. “It sets up relationships between universities, school districts and experts to create a community around teaching history.”