On September 21, the Texas Historical Commission and the Bullock State History Museum will host the second annual Story of Texas Workshop. This year’s theme is "Connecting Educators and Audiences." The workshop sessions will focus on improving the ways that volunteer and professional educators engage with students and teachers.
To promote this workshop, we are conducting a series of interviews. These interviews explore workshop topics and explain how those topics help improve your programming. Our first interview is with the Harrison County Historical Commission (CHC).
In a world of standardized testing and technology-enhanced learning, reaching teachers and students can be difficult. With this in mind, the Harrison CHC and representatives from other local cultural organizations met to discuss the statewide change to the social studies curriculum. This coordinated effort led to programming with hands-on activities that teach students about history.
Tom Speir (Harrison CHC) spoke to Madeline Clites (CHC Outreach Program) about the CHC’s efforts to expand educational outreach by working with local history-related organizations, the Education Service Center (ESC), Independent School District (ISD) leaders, and teachers. Developing these relationships has enabled the Harrison CHC to increase the opportunities for students to learn about history.
Clites: How did the partnership between Harrison CHC and Marshall ISD begin?
Speir: The Harrison CHC collected all of the brochures for each history-related venue. This included all of the museums and historic sites that we have in the county. We then presented the brochures to the superintendent of Marshall ISD, and explained what options (customized field trips and classroom presentations) were available to teachers and students. The leaders of Marshall ISD passed the information on to the social studies curriculum coordinators, and as a result, our local venues have hosted more field trips and have seen an increase in public attendance over the past year.
Clites: Education Service Centers (ESC) provide support to teachers and administrators in their efforts to educate students. How did Harrison CHC find out about the Region 7 ESC Social Studies Summit?
Speir: This year, we wanted to offer our services to all of the ISDs in our county. As we were making plans to expand, Sarah O’Brien, Director of Tourism and Promotions for the Marshall Convention and Visitor Bureau, suggested that we attend the Region 7 ESC Social Studies Summit to meet social studies teachers from around Harrison County. We contacted the ESC and they were pleased to have us participate in the summit.
Clites: How did this effort benefit Harrison CHC?
Speir: This year, the CHC and our partner organizations decided to host a booth. We handed out brochures, met teachers, and answered questions. We distributed teacher workbooks that were published by the Harrison County Historical Museum. We also projected a slideshow presentation from one of our classroom lessons to generate interest and encourage people to stop and talk with us. Since the summit, we have followed up with the teachers and have had a very positive response from them. We hope to build on this, and tell even more people about the opportunities we offer to teach kids about the history of Harrison County.
Clites: You mentioned working with other community partners. What role did they play at the ESC summit?
Speir: Joining me at the Summit were Janet Cook, executive director of the Harrison County Historical Museum; and Barbara Judkins, site manager of the Starr Family Home State Historic Site. It was important to have representatives from our sites at the summit so that they could answer specific questions about the programs and activities available to students.
Clites: How did your efforts match the teachers’ needs?
Speir: We found that flexibility for teachers is essential. We tried to make our programs as flexible and convenient as possible. Teachers are able to customize the duration, activities, and focus of each field trip. We even offer classroom lessons and activities. Our goal is to educate the kids whatever it takes.
Clites: Will you give an example of a typical field trip for elementary school students?
Speir: One very successful second-grade field trip included a tour of the Harrison County Historical Museum and a hands-on activity, which taught kids about finding and documenting archeological artifacts. Each student practiced digging for a plastic arrowhead and then recorded their findings on a worksheet. After the museum activities, the students went to the Michelson Museum of Art to learn about Caddo Indian ceramics. The day also included a visit to the T&P Depot Museum and the Starr Family Home State Historic Site.
Clites: What tips would you give other CHCs or history-related organizations that are interested in connecting with students and teachers?
Speir: Our experience has taught us to take the following steps:
- Inventory all cultural and history-related sites in your county.
- Collect brochures for all of the sites inventoried. If sites don’t have a brochure, help them create one.
- Network all of the sites in your county. Encourage them to meet and coordinate with one another.
- Organize and package the brochures in a three-ring binder.
- Meet with the school districts’ superintendents. Use the binder of brochures to explain the different field trip options that are available to history teachers.
- Follow up with history and social study teachers to plan field trips and classroom visits. Notify the teacher if a site is not ADA accessible.
Thank you Harrison CHC for talking with us about your education outreach efforts! Attend the Story of Texas Workshop on September 21 to learn more about how to reach students and teachers or how to connect with your region’s ESC. Attendees will learn from an ESC social studies specialist, and have the opportunity to network and share best practices with other organizations.