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UAF, school district partner on American history grant

Submitted by Marmian Grimes
Phone: (907) 474-7902

03/23/06

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is among several local partners in a federally funded project that aims to offer local educators innovative ideas for teaching U.S. history.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is the lead organization for the Teaching American History project, funded by a three-year federal grant worth nearly $500,000. The district is partnering with the UAF Office of Public History, along with the University of Alaska Museum of the North, the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society and the National Council for History Education, to provide conferences and coursework for social studies teachers and university students studying to become teachers.

UAF is hosting the first of these conferences March 23-25 at Wood Center. It features three experts from the National Council for History Education--learning specialist Tom Connors, master teacher Linda Clark and academic historian Elliott West--and is expected to draw nearly two dozen local elementary and secondary school educators.

"The Teaching American History grants are a national movement to increase our understanding of American history," said Molli Sipe, Teaching American History project coordinator for the district. "We want our students to understand more about the founding of the country."

The program will also allow more of the district's teachers to earn U.S. history endorsements on their teaching licenses, Sipe added. The local grant is among more than 100 awarded throughout the country and is the only grant awarded in Alaska.

According to Mary Ehrlander, assistant history professor at UAF, a backbone of the program is the use of the country's founding documents, primarily the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to teach history. Ehrlander will assist Professor Terrence Cole, Office of Public History director, in developing and teaching graduate-level university courses for program participants.

"The idea is that we approach American history and the evolution of our government, our society, our perspectives on issues like individual rights, using the founding documents," she said. "Our society has evolved to reflect the values in the founding documents much better than American society originally did. It's really quite inspiring to think of U.S. history in that way."

As participants in the program, teachers will read founding documents, meet with historians and master teachers, and create standards-based U.S. history lessons.

"(The goal is) to help schoolteachers appreciate the value of these documents," Ehrlander said, "and to be able to convey to children the value and brilliance of these documents and what they have contributed, not just to American life, but to the evolution of our society."

CONTACT: Terrence Cole, director, UAF Office of Public History, at (907) 474-6995 or via e-mail at fftmc@uaf.edu . Mary Ehrlander, assistant professor of history, at (907) 474-6556 or via e-mail at ffmfe@uaf.edu. Molli Sipe, Teaching American History project coordinator for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, at (907) 452-2000 ext. 429 or via e-mail at msipe@northstar.k12.ak.us. UAF Public Information Officer Marmian Grimes at (907) 474-7902 or via e-mail at marmian.grimes@uaf.edu .