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Pre-collegiate Educational Programs

Since the 1970s the Society has engaged in occasional efforts to improve the teaching of American history and literature in the pre-collegiate level. Most notably, in 1975 the Society produced a packet of historical facsimiles of documents and maps from the AAS collections pertaining to the colonial era and the American Revolution. Published by the firm of Allyn and Bacon, the series was edited by Francis G. Walett of Worcester State College in honor of the nations bicentennial. Designed to supplement traditional classroom texts, these high-quality reproductions examined extraordinary events and figures as well as the daily life of ordinary people.

With funding from the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Fund, the Society began to experiment with additional ways to impact K-12 education in the mid-1990s. This experimentation included offering fellowships to elementary and secondary level teachers and librarians, and conducting a two-day seminar on early American history in honor of AAS member Alden Vaughan upon his retirement from Columbia University.

With the appointment of a full-time director of outreach in 1997, the Society adopted criteria for evaluating potential AAS educational projects. These criteria emphasized the primacy of the Society's collections in such projects; encouraged the input of scholars, practicing educators, and AAS staff in their development; and mandated that all projects adhere to relevant national and state curricula frameworks.

The Society's K-12 efforts are designed to be a measured response to the educational reform movement that has swept the nation within the past 20 years. These reform efforts have resulted in a multitude of governmental and private initiatives to develop curriculum frameworks and assessment methods. Although these efforts vary considerably, most stress the need for inquiry-based learning and advocate for the use of primary source historical materials in the classroom. Many even stress the introduction of historic materials into the lower elementary grades.

Accordingly, the Society has sought to make available paper and digital facsimiles of select AAS library materials related to specific themes and supplemented with background information and lesson plans. AAS has been mindful of the social realities of most contemporary American classrooms and has attempted to make these historic materials accessible to learners of varying styles and abilities and who come from a wide variety of social and ethnic backgrounds. The Society has also played an important role in educating teachers about historic printed materials and their pedagogical applications. In developing its own projects and in its collaboration with other institutions, the Society always seeks to create programs that can be used on a national level.

The Society has engaged in a number of educational projects. In celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Isaiah Thomas in 1999, for example, AAS created a one-person dramatic presentation entitled Isaiah Thomas - Patriot Printer - that literally brings Thomas into classrooms via the talents of professional actor Neil Gustafson. The theatrical presentation was written and staged by James David Moran, the Society's director of outreach. In addition to the traveling dramatic presentation, this program also includes a curriculum/facsimile package that contains copies of all the documents featured in the presentation, as well as additional historic graphic images from the AAS collections. This packet also contains transcriptions of these documents, background biographical and historical information, and lesson plans for elementary, middle, and high school students developed by classroom teachers. Focusing on the life and times of the Society's founder, the program addresses the following themes specifically: the American Revolution, life in colonial New England, the early American printing trade, communication and transportation in the colonial and early national periods, and the development of a distinctly American culture. Over 3,000 students have participated in this program since its inception in the winter of 2000. With support from the Hoche-Scofield Foundation and the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, the Society was able to present this program to inner-city schools in Worcester, Springfield, and Boston. A modified version of this program has also been successfully presented to civic organizations and historical societies throughout the central New England region.

The Society has also collaborated with Old Sturbridge Village, the Worcester Historical Museum, and the Worcester Public Schools to create an interdisciplinary curriculum unit entitled, Coming of Age, 1798- 1850: What Does it Mean to be an American? This program, initially funded by a grant to Old Sturbridge Village by the Institute for Museum Services and continued with support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, asks teenage students to examine the changing roles of American culture and character in the nineteenth century and compare it with that of today. Designed for eighth-grade students, Coming of Age focuses primarily on how people matured in the past and compares and contrasts that with the students own life experiences and choices.

As the Society's work in the pre-collegiate educational field has become more widely known, AAS has been asked to participate in a number of other collaborative efforts to train teachers and to provide educators with historic primary source materials. The Society has played an active role in presenting teacher-training workshops both at AAS and in school systems and conferences throughout the New England region. In 2001, the Society was asked by the Boston Public Schools to collaborate on a project to retrain all junior- and senior-high school faculty members. Funded by a Federal Department of Education grant, the Boston Teaching American History Project includes graduate level classes, summer institutes, and the development of specialized curriculum materials. AAS supports this project by conducting summer institutes in the use of historic printed materials, supplying historic primary source facsimiles for use in classrooms, and in creating a digitized database of historic images.

- James David Moran, Director of Outreach


More information on the Society's pre-collegiate educational programs is available under the heading of "K-12 Programs" in the "Programs" section of this website.


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Last updated September 2, 2004

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