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Yia Yang.

Yia Yang of Johnson High School presents his exhibit at the state History Day competition in Coffman Memorial Union. Undergraduate History Day mentors from the U helped students from Johnson by visiting their school and meeting them for research field trips to Wilson Library.

U to help improve history education in St. Paul schools

Historians in the Classroom grant to deepen American history understanding

By Sue Banovetz and Grant Moos

February 22, 2006

With help from the College of Liberal Arts' history department, up to 16,000 St. Paul middle and high school students will likely know a lot more about American history.

An $835,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education will enable the University's history faculty to join with St. Paul Public Schools, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the Minnesota Department of Education to help improve the way history is taught to middle and high school students.

The "Historians in the Classroom" grant announced February 15 is to train dozens of social studies teachers over the three-year span of the grant to "teach on the diagonal"--a style of teaching that encourages students to immerse themselves in a topic by using the same advanced research, analysis, and presentation skills used by historians.

The grant builds on the longstanding success of the National History Day partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the U's History Department. The program has helped St. Paul Public School students get interested in history in the same way science fairs engage students in science.

The St. Paul Public School District operates one of the most successful urban History Day programs in the country, and the University's History Department, libraries, and undergraduate student mentors are key contributors to that success.

Every year, scores of students from St. Paul schools connect with the University to research a wide range of historical topics, which are often tied to groundbreaking U research--from controlling wheat rust to pioneering open heart surgery.

The St. Paul Public School District operates one of the most successful urban History Day programs in the country, and the University's History Department, libraries, and undergraduate student mentors are key contributors to that success.

"This partnership promises to cultivate some common ground, and gives us a shared language for talking about our respective histories and cultures--both our varied individual and cultural histories and our commonalities," says Steven Rosenstone, dean of the U's College of Liberal Arts. "It helps put our young people on a path toward mutual understanding, not to mention educational, social, and economic advancement."

University history faculty will use the grant money to develop and conduct a series of school-year workshops and summer institutes to "provide content-focused professional development on the nation's founding documents, people, places, events, and content standards."

The program will begin with 30 to 40 teachers in the first year of the program and expand to include more teachers in years two and three. The grant is the only one awarded in Minnesota and one of dozens awarded across the nation.

"The way we process and pass on history has changed," says Lou Kanavati, St. Paul Public Schools superintendent. "With a very generous grant, we are expanding and deepening the way history will be thought about and taught. A major goal is to improve junior and high school student achievement in traditional American history."

The Historians in the Classroom program is one of several initiatives the University is engaged in to help improve PreK-12 education in the state--and represents the type of collaboration the U will increasingly focus on.

The recently released recommendations from the Systemwide Academic Task Force on PreK-12 Strategy--one of several task forces charged with helping transform the U into one of the top three public research universities in the world--calls on the University to develop systemwide and coordinated programs to improve PreK-12 education.

"The University of Minnesota's land grant mission has always been about connecting the University's resources and knowledge with Minnesota's communities," says University President Bob Bruininks. "Historians in the Classroom represents the best of that legacy as do our redoubled efforts to connect with all levels of Minnesota's educational system."

Joining Rosenstone, Kanavati, and Bruininks at the announcement was Minnesota Historical Society Deputy Director Michael Fox, History Department Chair M. J. Maynes, Saint Paul Mayor and CLA alumnus Chris Coleman, and History Department faculty.