Teachers Travel the Country to Learn

As Valley and Walnut Creek social studies classes resumed this fall, four WDMCS teachers brought with them new knowledge, materials, strategies and experiences gained in highly selective national teacher workshops sponsored by both the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Gilder Lehrman Foundation.  Kevin Neal, Greg Hudson, Dan Kelly and Melissa Kelly traveled to programs in Mississippi, Pennsylvania, California and also here in Iowa.

These workshops were created to allow teachers from across the nation the chance to work with prominent scholars in their fields and have access to resources and locations relevant to the content they teach so as to improve instruction in their schools.

Neal, who teaches US history and psychology, headed south this summer to attend the NEH Landmark workshop The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History and Culture of the Mississippi Delta at Delta State University. A passion for 20th century history and the study of how it is reflected in popular music was brought to life during a week in the Mississippi Delta with prominent scholars and historians along with visits to sites of great historical significance. Not only is the story of race and the socio-economics of the Deep South central to US history and AP US history, it can make history more interesting to students when evidenced with music.

“It is a wonderful tool to bring in reluctant learners and help challenge the notion that history is simply the study of random facts and dates,” said Neal. “They can listen to the blues and hear the story of the Delta, its trials and hardships. They can connect with the story in a way that textbooks just cannot.”

hudsongHudson, who teaches US history and American heritage, attended a teacher seminar in Pennsylvania sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Foundation, studying Abraham Lincoln and the forces at play in 19th century America that shaped him and his presidency.  In sessions at Gettysburg College, teachers from all over the country explored not only how events shaped Lincoln but how his intellectual curiosity, when satisfied through reading and reflective thought, can lead a person to incredible insights. While Lincoln, his leadership and the events of the Civil War are clearly critical to an understanding of the American story, this experience further strengthened Hudson’s commitment to the American Heritage model of pairing a study of history with a consideration of the literature that captured and shaped the times being studied.

kellydWhile Dan Kelly may have headed west to Wyoming to attend his NEH Landmark Workshop, The Transcontinental Railroad: Transforming California and the Nation, his drive to reach the conference reminded him of how the story of the Transcontinental Railroad starts here in Iowa with people like Grenville Dodge. The workshop may have explored themes such as the environment, immigration and labor, however, the key lesson that he brought back to share with students was the need to struggle and persist if one is to achieve greatness, like overcoming the barriers of time and space to knit the country together by rail. His other lesson for students from this experience is a reminder to savor learning. By learning from leading scholars such as Pulitzer Prize nominated historian Richard White at Stanford University, Kelly demonstrated for his students a commitment to never stop learning. Kelly teaches US history and government courses at Valley.

Melissa Kelly may not have traveled as far for her NEH Workshop, but her trip to Mason City was no less impactful.  Teaching sociology and economics in the Valley social studies department, made some of the more historically-focused programs not as relevant to her classroom.  She decided to explore the Prairie School Movement in the Midwest. Frank Lloyd Wright and his Park Inn Hotel in Mason City served as the backdrop for her program, with the week focused on the Prairie School as an indigenous expression American individualism, ideals and small-town character. Working with a variety of scholars from different fields of study, the program sought to synthesize numerous perspectives on the development and evolution of the Prairie School movement.  These discussions and the work with her colleagues from all over the country, tie in well with her sociology curriculum on social movements and group dynamics. In addition to the scholarly work, Northern Iowa communities like Charles City and Osage were highlighted for their historical preservation and civic pride that have enabled the citizens to preserve significant pieces of both local and national architectural history. The workshop provided concrete examples of architecture as an expression of culture and the analytical tools to examine such visual representations of culture.

These summer programs may have taken these teachers in each of the cardinal directions away from the WDMCS, but these four teachers have clearly demonstrated the benefits that flow back to Valley and Walnut Creek Campus from such programs.  They have been able to renew their own passions for the material they teach and connect with leading scholars to stay abreast of key developments in their fields. They have also led by example in reminding their students that learning is not confined to the halls of Valley High School and the Walnut Creek Campus.