Local teachers dig into history at Lee
June 28, 2012
FORT LEE, Va. (June 28, 2012) -- Fifteen local school teachers have a whole new appreciation of dirt and the treasures it may hide after spending Monday afternoon at Fort Lee's historic training trenches. They not only unearthed interesting artifacts but also discovered innovative ways to motivate their students in the classroom.
Educators from Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Prince George, Hopewell and Chesterfield schools are "digging up the past" as they participate in the History Underfoot: Community Educators Expedition of Discovery Teacher Institute to experience and explore alternative teaching techniques.
"Our role in the History Underfoot program is to help the educator incorporate archaeology into the classroom," said Amy Wood, Fort Lee Cultural Resources manager. "Participants can pass this (experience) along to their students in the classroom, fostering interest in and concern for history, archaeology and historic preservation."
While visiting the World War I-era defensive training trenches here, Wood introduced the teachers to Fort Lee's cultural resources and led them through a practical activity to demonstrate archaeological excavation techniques that can be replicated in the classroom.
During an earlier session that day, the group participated in a learning event that focused on the topic "Civil War to Civil Rights." Amanda Vtipil, curator at the Regional Archaeological Curation Facility, introduced the educators to a 19th century archaeological site that bears evidence of what life might have been like for free African-Americans living in Prince George County just before the Civil War.
"By attending the lecture on the 19th century free African-American site, seeing the artifacts, touring the trenches and engaging in an excavation activity, the participants were, we hope, able to gain a fuller understanding of archaeology," said Vtipil.
Sponsored by the City of Petersburg Museums, Petersburg National Battlefield, Prince George County Regional Heritage Center, the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum and the U.S. Army Women's Museum, the four-day program is a joint venture that brings together civilian and military educators to explore creative ways to increase students' classroom achievement potential.
Nicole Hancock from Prince George said teachers must challenge themselves to see the connections between what is here and how that tells us something about the big picture.
"One of the most interesting parts of today's adventure was learning how to see history differently," said Hancock. "Our challenge, as we explore local history, is to see this history as more than just a park or museum. Our most important challenge, though, is to help our students make these connections by giving them meaningful opportunities and experiences."
Hancock, who has been teaching for 10 years, said her first day in the program roused many new ideas to take back to the classroom.
Ann Easterling, the 2012 History Underfoot director, said the program motivates teachers by providing valuable classroom resources that are available in their own backyards.
"Both Fort Lee museums and the archaeology curation facility are part of this collaboration," said Easterling, also a Petersburg native. "Teachers who may not have been aware of the post's educational opportunities are made aware of these resources."
In addition to the WWI trenches, History Underfoot includes local field trips to the museums at Fort Lee, sites of the Battle of the Crater, and Gen. Grant's headquarters at City Point in Hopewell to experience history from the American Revolution, World War II, "Civil War to Civil Rights" and Virginia Studies.
"This is an awesome program that serves to create a stronger tie with the military and surrounding civilian communities," said Terri Smith, a U.S. and Virginia government teacher at Petersburg High School. "This is the first time I have attended a conference that is so hands-on and features the benefits of what the Tri-Cities have to offer."
Christie Ginther, a library media specialist at J.E.J. Moore Middle School in Prince George, said her interest in knowing what was in her "backyard" motivated her to apply to the History Underfoot program. She will use this experience to tap into local resources and partner with local historians.
"Here we have members of our community, professionals at local historical sites, working together with teachers -- sharing their knowledge and resources," said Ginther. "They are challenging us as teachers to rethink the way students are being taught and encouraging us to teach students history in an effective, active way."
Teachers say the connections they are making with each other in a comfortable, open, fun and informative environment serve as an added plus to the positive event.
"I am a big subscriber of the philosophy that 'it takes a village,'" said Ginther. "I can't help but think today that History Underfoot epitomizes that concept."
"History Underfoot broadens and enriches our teachers' experiences and will, therefore, enrich our students' learning and their lives," said Easterling.
"Professional development for teachers is so important," Hancock said. "We, like our students, are always learning. I cannot wait to take my experiences and resources back to school in September."
"This program has been a wonderful experience," said Smith. "I plan to incorporate what I am learning into my lessons to give better details and meaning to what we are learning. I am thankful for being a part of this event."