Tuesday, January 30, 2018

KC history comes alive in Grandview classroom

by Mary Wilson

Not all high schoolers have the opportunity to learn about their own communities, but students at Grandview High School are receiving an education on Kansas City culture and history. Teachers Diane Euston and Mike Stringer, who teach English and history respectively, have combined forces to offer Grandview juniors and seniors a fresh and different perspective on local history and the influence of various cultures, events and circumstances that impacted the development of the area.

The course, Crossroads of America: Survey of Kansas City, exposes students to a seminar style, interdisciplinary study environment where both a social studies and an English teacher co-teach the class, offering insight to genealogical research with a secured grant through Ancestry.com, primary and secondary sources, document-based questions, scholarly publications and a culminating activity that will include a formal research paper over a chosen aspect of local history.

“We sort of handpicked the students,” said Euston. “It is an elective. We promised these ‘recruits’ that it would be fun and worth it. So far, so good. We were just so excited to have this opportunity to merge our passion of the history of Kansas City and share it in a unique way. We want students to be excited to learn about history, and challenge them as well. Even in Grandview, there is such a cool backdrop to the city. It's our goal to take these students back and time and have them uncover the past, survey the area and reflect on where we go from here.”

By partnering English and history together, the course develops a strong and mutually-supportive focus to benefit the students, school and community. The 25 students enrolled in the class will also have the opportunity for field experiences, including tours of local areas like Watts Mill, New Santa Fe, historical homes, the Battles of Westport and Island Mound, and the Grandview Bushwhacker Conflicts.

“I am really excited for when we do a tour of Grandview area, and I can show the kids where all these bushwhackers lived and the shady stuff they did back in the day,” said Euston. “Tim Reidy, Rockhurst High School teacher, guided us. He has been teaching a class on this for a while, and though we aren't doing the same thing as he is, there is no other public school that I know of in the metro area teaching a class like this; and certainly not with two teachers in this type of setting.”

This week, students in the class were creating a map of the Kansas City area from the 1850s, labeling key landmarks such as Kaw Point, Westport Landing, Fort Osage, Red Bridge and New Santa Fe, and the rivers that flow through the region.  Students can be creative and artistic, while learning about the community they are from.

“I’ve always wanted to learn more about our history. I’ve lived here for years, so why not learn more about the place you live in,” said senior Christabella Ramirez. “When I first came to the class, I didn’t even know anything about the Oregon Trail. We played the game and it was pretty fun. I did die a few times, but then I finally made it all the way through the game.”

Junior Nick Johnson said that while growing up in the area, he and his family would drive past different monuments or historical places, and he is getting the chance to learn the history behind them now.

“The high school I was at before didn’t really have a class like this, so it’s nice to be exposed to something new,” said Johnson. “I hope I can learn things and pass the experience onto my children and my family.”

Euston and Stringer knew of the need for new, innovative classes in the district, and thought that an interdisciplinary class proposal would fit the bill.

“The work that our teachers do each and every day is the driver in preparing our students for their futures,” said Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Juan Cordova. “Grandview C-4 empowers teachers to find ways to reach today's students.  Our work in cultural competency, innovation classrooms, and a number of other initiatives are all designed to empower our teachers to be equipped for the students of today and prepared for those students to come.  By having teachers be a part of the curriculum and instruction process, we tap into those closest to students and all parties benefit from the work.”

“We were passionate about making this happen, and I think that passion shows when we teach together,” said Euston. “We wrote a class proposal, met with a committee and were approved last year. We hope that we can continue to learn and develop this class so it exists for years to come.”

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