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Professors Crocco and Thornton Connect Young Urban Americans to the Past

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Professors Crocco and Thornton Connect Young Urban Americans to the Past

Stephen Thornton and Margaret Crocco

Many teachers have to spend most of their time preparing their students for tests. Math and reading are often the focus and subjects like social studies and art get overlooked. Teachers just don't have time to do it all.

This problem is worse in urban schools, where many children do not speak English or do not read effectively. In addition, some of these children face tough problems outside of school. Ready to face these challenges and overcome them, TC Professors Margaret Crocco and Stephen Thornton are part of a new Teaching American History grant working with Community School District 23, Ocean Hill-Brownsville and local historical groups.

Many politicians are now realizing the need for social studies and civic education all over the country. In September the U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said that American history is one of the crucial subjects students need to master, so 114 school districts in 38 states will receive $98.5 million in Teaching American History grants, including Community School District 23. The project director for the grant is Joseph Nwabueze. This is the only grant awarded to a community school district in New York City.

Community School District 23 is a low-income community of 116,800 people located on the eastern edge of Central Brooklyn, according to the U.S. Census in 2000. It is a traditionally underserved area composed mostly of African Americans, Hispanics and recent immigrants, especially from the Caribbean, Central America and South America. The community has the highest unemployment rate in the state.

"The population we are dealing with is likely to be from groups who feel relatively low connections to the standard national American history narrative," said Thornton about Community School District 23. "This is a way towards inclusion because they can see how their story is part of and fits into the larger whole."

Crocco, who is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Social Studies and Education, and Thornton, who is also Associate Professor of Social Studies and Education, have worked on grants with secondary level students and teachers, but this one is for the lower grades. "Elementary teachers need this type of training even more," said Thornton. "They are seldom trained specifically for history. In many cases they are minimally trained. This was exacerbated by the so-called educational reform of high stakes testing in math and reading. Social Studies generally got squeezed out."

This grant program supports three-year projects to improve teachers' knowledge, understanding and appreciation for American history through intensive, ongoing professional development. Projects must be in partnership with organizations that have extensive knowledge of American history including libraries, museums, nonprofit history or humanities organizations and higher education institutions.

Since the grant will focus on American history on a local level, said Crocco, they will partner with Mike Wallace, Director of the Gotham Center for New York City History of the Graduate Center at CUNY, and Kate Fermoile, Curator of Education at the Brooklyn Historical Society. The project, called "Connecting Young Americans to the Past," is a national model designed to energize the study of American history by connecting teachers and students with compelling, real-life examples of national events played out on the local level.

The program's goals include getting teachers to demonstrate knowledge of American history as presented in the New York Learning Standards and the Core Curriculum for the 4th, 7th and 8th grades. They will demonstrate capacity in developing and evaluating American history lesson plans and using external historical resources in and around New York City. Teachers will become familiar with current historical research and trends in pedagogy. In addition, Community School District 23 will develop a mentoring program led by teachers involved in the project, which will impact all of the teachers in the district.

"We have a strong commitment to urban education, especially to schools in New York City," said Crocco. "Now, with this grant, we have the financial resources to help them."

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