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Grant brings new life to history lessons in NY Mills

New York Mills teacher Jason Boe works with student Robert Meyer on his research paper about Henry Ford, the creator of the Model T. Boe teaches 10th grade U.S. History and 12th grade World History.1 / 2
Peter Stark and Ty Bell answer questions about their project featuring Johnny Cash as teacher Jo Rudnitski looks things over.2 / 2

If it comes down to putting on a wig or donning a toga, New York Mills teacher Jason Boe is willing to try it--that is, if it helps his students.

Dressing up in period attire is just one technique Boe has been learning about recently through classes held for area history teachers. The purpose of these workshops is to inspire teachers to improve their classroom strategies, ultimately resulting in stronger student achievement in history classes.

All of the training Boe is receiving comes through a 'Teaching American History' grant program that he applied to be a part of last year. Just one year into the program, Boe says he is already appreciating the wealth of information and helpful resources garnered through the grant program.

"This has helped me to be even more creative in the classroom," Boe says of the history program. "There is this misconception that history is all about memorization and taking out a textbook."

In addition to introducing Boe to some creative performance-related history ideas, the history grant program provides his students with a free online database of primary sources and free historical texts. There are also lesson plans available for Boe to use in the classroom.

The grant covers the cost of hiring a substitute for the days when Boe attends workshops put on through the grant program. Once a month, he meets in Perham with other history teachers to discuss history-related topics revolving around new ideas that can be incorporated into their existing curriculum.

"It's nice because they do what I do," Boe says of the experience.

Every couple of months, the 19 teachers throughout central Minnesota who are participating in the grant program meet together as a large group in Moorhead. The regional group consists of teachers from Lake Park, Fergus Falls, Perham, Alexandria, Moorhead, Pelican Rapids, and New York Mills.

Boe is not the only New York Mills teacher involved in the history grant program. Jo Rudnitski, who teaches 7th grade U.S. History, and Rita Askew, a 5th grade teacher who emphasizes U.S. History with her students, are also participating in the program.

At their Moorhead-based large group gatherings, the New York Mills teachers are given the opportunity to dialogue with professors from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Presenters are also flown in to share new history ideas with the group.

"It's unreal the amount of time and energy put into this project," said Boe. "The professional development that has taken place has been amazing."

Lakes Country Service out of Fergus Falls was designated the 'Teaching American History' funds for Minnesota and is coordinating the activities for the history cohort. It is a three-year commitment for teachers.

This is the first year in the grant program for area teachers, and the focus this year is on Colonial America. "Next year, we hit the beginning of our country through the Civil War," explains Boe. The third year will focus on events taking place after the Civil War.

In setting a different period of history as the theme of each year of the grant, Boe says it helps teachers to focus on a more narrow section of our nation's ever lengthening timeline. He jokes, "The problem with history is that there's just so much of it."