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'Historic' ed grant sent to city schools

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By SUSAN McMAHON Sun Staff

LOWELL Lowell's history teachers will get a chance to dust off the old books and look at the past in a different light, with a little help from the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the city's schools nearly $1 million for a new professional development program for history teachers. The grant proposal was developed in partnership with the Lowell public schools, Tsongas Industrial History Center, UMass Lowell and the Lowell National Historic Park.

In the era of MCAS, the new programs can serve to bring more attention to subjects, such as history, which have not yet become part of the high-stakes 10th-grade exam.

"A lot of the resources of education have been focused on kids' ability to read and write and do math. This is a chance to shine the spotlight on the learning of history in the same way," said Peter O'Connell, director of the Tsongas Industrial History Center.

The $961,600 grant was awarded through a new initiative, Teaching American History Grants Program, which was founded as part of the No Child Left Behind education law.

U.S. Rep. Marty Meehan. who voted for the education act, said the grant will help improve public education in the area of history.

"This is a grant that will help the Lowell School Department teach students the rich history of the area and the history of our country," said the Lowell Democrat. "It's an innovative partnership that will serve 100 teachers and as many as 10,000 students."

With the funding, the local institutions will develop seminars and mini-sabbaticals for history teachers in grades five and eight in an effort to intellectually engage them in their subject areas. They'll be able to exchange ideas with UMass Lowell historians, spend time poring over new research in history, and discuss techniques with fellow teachers.

The goal is to create a history resource center that will link graduate-level seminars, five-day summer institutes and research-oriented mini-sabbaticals for about 20 teachers.

The program will be in line with the state's new history curriculum standards, with fifth-grade teachers focusing on the 17th and 18th centuries and eighth-grade teachers looking at the American Revolution through the end of Reconstruction.

"Our teachers and our students are sure to benefit from the first-rate professional development that the Tsongas Center and others will be able to provide for our staff, and from the high-quality teaching resources that will make our American History curriculum come alive for our youngsters," said Superintendent Karla Brooks Baehr.

And organizers are hoping the arrangement will last longer than the three years of the grant.

"Part of the goal is to create a sustained partnership, and Lowell has demonstrated the value of that kind of community of partners over and over again," O'Connell said. "The ultimate product is to get kids actively engaged in history. This is a chance for the teachers to refresh themselves intellectually and to think about different ways of engaging their students."