Newtown Middle School eighth grade social studies teacher Susan Lang has been applying for grants through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) off and on for a few years, but this year she convinced a few of her fellow teachers to also apply.
According to the NEH, it is an independent federal agency that promotes excellence in the humanities by awarding grants and offering programs.
This year Ms Lang, NMS social studies coordinator and eighth grade teacher Andrew San Angelo, and NMS seventh grade social studies teacher Brianne Panzarella all had the opportunity to travel and study topics through grants from the agency. NMS social studies eighth grade teacher Ron Chivinski was also awarded a grant, but ended up not being able to attend.
Ms Lang was given the chance to study the Eerie Canal, Mr San Angelo studied a number of topics surrounding New York’s Forever Wild Program, and Ms Panzarella studied Thomas Jefferson.
“It was a fascinating week,” said Ms Lang, who studied in New York from July 21 to July 27.
Ms Lang said she is a fan of the NEH, because “they allow teachers to be students.”
Ms Lang, Mr San Angelo, and Ms Panzarella all said their experiences and studies through the grants will be incorporated into their teachings at NMS this school year.
According to Ms Lang, the NEH awarded each of the teachers studying in its programs a stipend to cover things like food and lodging. She added that the grants are competitive.
While studying the Erie Canal, Ms Lang said she became fascinated by the entirely humanmade canal. She also noticed a familiar name when studying the canal’s history. Jessie Hawley, an impoverished grain grower from Bridgeport, wrote essays while in debtors prison on the cost of shipping grain from Western New York to other United States markets in the early 1800s.
“He envisioned a canal,” said Ms Lang. “…I saw the name Hawley. I grew up in Newtown, so I wondered if there was a connection.”
Ms Lang contacted The Hawley Society, and learned from Trudy Hawley, a volunteer genealogist, that Jessie Hawley can be describe both as a second cousin three times removed from Mary Hawley, Newtown’s benefactress, and as a fourth cousin three times removed, due to different lines of the family.
The NEH grants, says Ms Lang, are fantastic ways for teachers to focus on what they teach.
Ms Panzarella ventured to Boston from July 7 to 26 to study Thomas Jefferson. During her time there, she stayed at Boston University. She said studying one historical figure for that amount of time was an opportunity.
Throughout the program, Ms Panzarella said speakers came in, and different facets of Thomas Jefferson’s life were studied by those completing research through the NEH
“It was a great opportunity to learn and do something that stretched my brain muscles a little bit this summer,” said Ms Panzarella.
While in Boston, Ms Panzarella said she had the chance to explore, but she also spent time writing a four-lesson mini-unit on how to read historical documents, especially letters. She included letters written by Thomas Jefferson about the US Constitution while the document was being written.
Ms Panzarella also said she was given a number of documents that she plans to share with her department at NMS, including primary sources that have been scanned.
“I am really excited to use these primary resources this year,” said Ms Panzarella.
Studying with the NEH project also gave Ms Panzarella, Ms Lang, and Mr San Angelo a chance to meet and work with other teachers from around the country. Ms Panzarella said she liked talking with teachers about what they are doing in their own classrooms.
For Mr San Angelo, who traveled to the Adirondacks July 6 to July 14, topics studied through his project ranged from the Industrial Revolution to the Gilded Age. Mr San Angelo’s studies started out in Syracuse, N.Y., and his group was bused from there to Raquette Lake in Long Lake, N.Y. The group also visited one of the Great Camps.
Mr San Angelo explained William Durant, son of Thomas Durant, who helped oversee the Union Pacific Railroad, was put to work “for a project” by his father after returning from a trip to Egypt. For the next seven years, William Durant worked to build a number of the Great Camps. The camps became destinations for the superrich, and even included servants quarters, where the visiting teachers were housed this summer.
The houses built for the Great Camps, Mr San Angelo said, were an example of the wealth of the Gilded Age. Mr San Angelo said the people who would have stayed in the houses at the time would not have been “roughing it.”
William Durant eventually ran into financial trouble, according to Mr San Angelo, and when he died he was being paid as a worker at one of the camps he had helped to build.
Camp Huntington is used by the State University of New York Cortland for recreation and teacher workshops, according to Mr San Angelo.
“It was excellent,” said Mr San Angelo, about his experience. “The NEH ran it very well. The people ran it well. The instructors were organized.”
Mr San Angelo said he plans to use his experience to link teaching his students about the Transcontinental Railroad with the mansions built during the Gilded Age. He also said he would apply to study with the National Endowment for the Humanities again, and he is already looking at possibilities to do so.