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How We Became the United States of America: The Values that Built Our Nation

 

Center Program Travels to Appalachia

 

 

BY Colleen O. Wilson

 


“A real shot in the arm for social studies teachers” is how teachers describe “How We Became the United States of America: The Values that Built Our Nation.” This educational initiative, developed by The Center for Advancing America’s Heritage, was funded by the Steele Reese Foundation. The March program immersed participants in the history of the American Revolution at the fifth and eighth grade levels. Teachers embraced three days of professional development at the National Headquarters of the Sons of the American Revolution and The McConnell Center at the University of Louisville. Two weeks later their students eagerly moved through seven different education stations using the facilities at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky.

It was this scenario that drew teachers and their students from the underserved counties of Clay, Harlan, Knox, Laurel, and Whitley in eastern Kentucky. Over 1,000 students actively engaged in flag folding, an interactive video game - MISSION US, discovering George Washington Crossing the Delaware through a puzzle, trying on a Colonial uniform and accoutrements, writing with quill pens, and uncovering life at their age during the Revolutionary War era.

“I mostly enjoyed talking about the soldiers,” said Alex Nantz a fifth grade student at Wallins Elementary in Harlan County. “It was very exciting trying on the uniforms and learning about the hairy backpack.”

“Learning about the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware River was really interesting,” Christina Anderson told her teacher Karen Smith at Corbin Intermediate in Corbin County. “I had seen the picture, but didn’t really know what it was about or that it related to the Revolutionary War. Now I do! &rdquo

Exceeding program expectations, the University of the Cumberlands with the Capt. Charles Gatliff Chapter in Williamsburg threw open its doors and showed students their first glimpse of education at a college. College ambassadors escorted students to the stations on a campus that embodies our nation’s founding in its buildings’ architecture replicating Colonial icons such as Independence Hall. The day’s activities showed that doing well in the classroom now can offer great rewards in the future. The University of the Cumberlands moved their own classes, rerouted professors, and provided technical assistance and station presenters to ensure the program’s success.

Dr. Michael B. Colegrove, Vice President for Student Services at the university, stated, “The University of the Cumberlands is delighted to work with the Sons of the American Revolution, University of Louisville, and the Steele Reese Foundation in providing this opportunity for area youth. The students that came to campus were extremely energetic and interested in learning. All of us who worked with the program came away with a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the future of our country and the future of the accurate study of early American history.”

While the students gathered in Patriot Park at the university, the Gov. Isaac Shelby Chapter and the Kentucky National Guard provided instruction on the symbolism of our American Flag. University of Cumberland’s own Jordyne Gunthert left the students “star struck” as she appeared in costume as Betsy Ross and shared a glimpse of Colonial life.

Gavin Hale, a fifth grader at Johnson Elementary School in Laurel County was amazed, “I was very interested in the lesson of the early flags. I thought there was only one flag! ”

“I loved the hands-on activities and the in-depth information about the Revolutionary War. Even though I teach the Revolutionary War yearly, there was much information I didn’t know,” added Hale’s teacher Kelly Hodges.

Kendra Turner, a fifth grade student at Whitley Central Intermediate highlighted another station attended by students in Williamsburg, “I thought the trip was AWESOME! I liked learning about the history of the flags and writing with a quill pen. The MISSION US was really interesting….”

Conducted by Kentucky Educational Television’s Education Consultant Kathy Davis students played an interactive game “For Crown or Colony?” where they learned about events leading up to the Boston Massacre. Earlier in the month Davis had provided training to the teachers during the Louisville seminar. Assisting Davis was National MISSON US Teacher of the Year Laureen Laumeyer. Laumeyer is a fifth grade teacher in Hardin County Kentucky. She demonstrated how her students use the program in their classroom at Meadowview Elementary.

“My students thoroughly enjoyed the field trip. They are still talking about their favorite activities – the quill pen, Mission US, and dressing like George Washington,” emphasized Lindsey Evans of Lynn Camp Elementary in Corbin, Kentucky. “As their teacher, I enjoyed watching them learn through hands-on experiences. This is such a valuable opportunity, and I look forward to returning next year!”

In January 2011 The SAR Foundation, Inc. submitted a grant to the Steele Reese Foundation to secure funding for the expansion of The Center’s history programs for school students into rural eastern Kentucky counties. Collaborations were developed with The McConnell Center, Eastern Kentucky University, University of the Cumberlands, Kentucky Christian University, American Historic Services, Historic Locust Grove, and the Louisville Free Public Library. The following July the Steele Reese Foundation awarded the NSSAR a $50,000 grant to be dispersed over three years. These funds provided teachers with limited district resources an avenue to enrich their core content, and experience hands on activities for the classroom. Each teacher also received teaching materials to bring back to their school.

“The training was awesome. Most professional development offered for teachers to go to have nothing to do with history and the content that I teach,” stated Mark Woods, a fifth grade teacher at Big Creek Elementary in Clay County. “This training offered an in depth look into the Revolutionary War period and gave me valuable information and materials that I have brought back for use in my classroom. This is the kind of training that history teachers need …. The University of the Cumberlands field trip brought history alive for the students; they absolutely loved it.”

Eastern Kentucky University’s Kelli Moore, educational extension agent for Knox, Laurel, and Whitley Counties, worked with the NSSAR to obtain letters of support from district superintendents. Once administrative approval was received, their teachers began to apply for the limited program openings. At the close of registration all 16 spots had been filled and professional development sessions were scheduled for March 18 – 20 in Louisville, Kentucky.

“The program’s schedule was amazing,” Moore replied when sent the teachers’ itinerary. “Our administrators and teachers alike appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the professional development and for their students to attend such an interactive and educational field trip locally.”

With coordination from Dr. Gary L. Gregg and Civics Education Coordinator Malana S. Salyer from The McConnell Center, esteemed history professors signed on to share their particular expertise with participating educators.

Dr. Gregg, director of The McConnell Center, holds the Mitch McConnell Chair in Leadership at the University of Louisville. He welcomed the group of teachers upon their arrival in Louisville along with SAR Foundation Capital Champaign Chair Dr. Sam Powell. Dr. Gregg’s evening lecture, “The Making of George Washington and the Making of America,” offered a uniquely researched portrait of our founding father. Classroom materials such as books authored by Dr. Gregg and interpretation tools designed by The Center were presented to the teachers prior to their departure from The McConnell Center.

Dr. Daniel Krebs, assistant history professor at University of Louisville, sketched “The Colonial Origins of America – Before the Revolution.” Recently appearing on NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are,” Dr. Krebs captured the teachers’ inquisitive minds with the early history of the American Revolution.

A special exhibit of loaned artifacts from the Dr. R. Ted Steinbock Collection was the focus of Assistant Professor of History Dr. Nathan Coleman from Kentucky Christian University. Dr. Coleman’s segment on “The American Understanding of Liberty” gave teachers a new perspective on the literary concepts espoused by the authors. A Harvard graduate, Dr. Steinbock is an ardent book collector with the world’s largest private collection of books, sermons, almanacs, and pamphlets printed in America before 1800. These eloquently written pieces bring forth the passion of early Patriots for independence and a constitutional framework of government.

Fifth grade teacher Penny Lee of Harlan County explained, “I think elaborating on the culture and events of the American Revolution gave me a much deeper insight into causes and effects that I teach and discuss with my students. The wide varieties of experiences were so helpful to me.”

What were these causes and effects? Dr. Thomas Mackey, professor of history at the University of Louisville and Adjunct Professor of Law at Brandeis School of Law discussed with the teachers “The Ideas and Values that Spawned the American Revolution.” Dr. Mackey’s zeal for history underlines his popularity with his students and was on target with the concepts the teachers address in their classrooms.

“This program was wonderful. Everything that we participated in was beneficial. Even after spending years in the classroom, it is great to learn new methods, get new strategies, gain more understanding and network with teachers from other districts,” said South Laurel Middle School teacher Amy Gaines.

While seated in the Museum Gallery at the SAR’s National Headquarters the thought occurred to teachers, “Could I be related to any of our country’s patriots?” It was the “Genealogy ties to American History” presented by Joe Hardesty of the Louisville Free Public Library that walked the teachers through the genealogy process. Many of the teachers had traced their family’s heritage and were eager to learn more about the SAR Genealogical Research Library.

With a deeper understanding of the American Revolution teachers progressed to methods of interpretation. “The Value of Interpretations” was illustrated by Dr. Mel Hankla of American Historic Services within the back drop of Historic Locust Grove. A historian by trade, Dr. Hankla has been active for many years in the “living history” of America’s frontier. Hankla delivered a performance filled with the joy, anger, disappointment, and enthusiasm Clark felt wrestling lands away from those who would stifle our country’s expansion.

Now a National Historic landmark, the farm at Locust Grove was established by William and Lucy Clark Croghan in 1790.Croghans was the brother-in-law and surveying partner of Clark, founder of Louisville, and Revolutionary War hero. Teachers were guided by trained docents who demonstrated what life would have been like for the Croghans.

“One of the biggest strengths of this professional development was the blend of content and pedagogy,” added Knox County Middle School teacher Suzanne Gibbs. “This allowed us to expand our content knowledge of the Revolutionary War, but also increased our ability to take this knowledge and implement it into our lessons.

SAR welcomes our role in this experience for students in eastern Kentucky. We look towards the future for opportunities to expand these interactive programs to other states.