Grant should help bolster history curriculum

Published 11:13 am Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Staff Writer

Local public-school teachers and students likely will get a better grasp of the nation’s history as a result of a $442,636 grant awarded to Beaufort County Schools, local public school leaders said.
The Beaufort County school system is the only recipient from North Carolina among 124 districts nationwide to receive the award, known as a Teaching American History grant, Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education announced last week.
BCS Superintendent Don Phipps said the effects of the grant will be felt by students and teachers for years to come.
“I believe the fact that Beaufort County Schools was the only North Carolina recipient speaks to the overall quality of the grant proposal — its focus, intent and scope,” Phipps said. “This opportunity will allow us to not only provide professional development to Beaufort County school teachers, but it will yield products that may be used by teachers everywhere for years to come.”
The Beaufort County grant will focus on improving history education in the school system’s nine elementary and middle schools by providing professional development for elementary and middle-school teachers, according to Michele Oros, grant writer for Beaufort County Schools.
Twenty teachers per year will participate in a week-long summer seminar and seven weekend workshops for a total of 162 hours of instruction during the first two years of the three-year grant, she said.
The grant will focus in the first year on the first periods of American history — from its beginnings to colonization to the American Revolution and the founding of a new nation to its expansion prior to the Civil War. 
In the second year, middle-grades social-studies teachers will explore political and economic history from several perspectives across all historical periods.
In the third year, 20 of the teachers who participated in the project during one of the two previous years will be trained to teach others and identify and develop materials that can be used in the classroom to improve students’ understanding of history, Oros said.
The school system will work with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a nonprofit organization based in New York, East Carolina University and the N.C. Museum of History to develop teacher workshops and classroom materials.
Once identified, the materials proposed for use will be available for public review on the school system’s website, she said.
The goal of the Teaching American History grant program is to improve teachers’ understanding of American history through intensive professional development — including study trips to historic sites and working with professional historians and other experts.
This is the second Teaching American History grant received by the local school system. An earlier grant focused on the period of history between the Civil War and World War I when the United States first began to develop into a global power.
History is one of the core academic subjects under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The state’s history curriculum has been in the news this year. A proposal by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to focus the classwork in the state’s high schools on U.S. history after the Civil War and eliminate most of the study of the nation’s founding in those grades drew criticism by many state educators and political leaders.
That criticism led the department to abandon the changes and prompted educators to look for ways to focus more on the earlier periods of history in the classroom.
“Concerns raised earlier in the year about the history standards in North Carolina schools were heard and will be reflected in this project,” Phipps said.