Teachers all over Utah are getting up close and personal with history so they can share their passion with students next school year.
A total of 250 teachers applied for 90 fully funded history seminar slots, the first of which was a trip called "Foundation of Liberty" to Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia areas.
The second seminar, "The Overland Trail," was for northern Utah and Wyoming. The third seminar, "Utah and the West," slated for later this month, takes place in Mesa Verde, Colo., along with southern Utah and Arizona.
"The goal is to strengthen our teachers' and students' connection with the past through experiential learning so they can gain a greater appreciation and have a better understanding for history, freedom and democracy," said Steve Starks, special projects coordinator for Larry H. Miller Group of Companies.
The educators, most of whom normally couldn't afford this type of trip on a teacher's salary, are fully funded by joint sponsors Larry H. Miller and Zions Bank.
Jamie Beck, who teaches fifth-grade history at Timpanogos Elementary School in Provo School District, said she wants her students to see that history is real. "This all really happened. These places we talk about are really there. You can see it in a textbook, but I want to make it come alive for the students."
The seminar includes travel, meals, lodging, books and materials. The educators also receive a $500 stipend just for attending the week of academically rigorous activities.
Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank, said, "I can think of no better way to enhance the quality of education in our state than investing in the ongoing development of our teachers. The Larry H. Miller Education Project's 'history immersion' experiences provide teachers with an unequaled opportunity to enrich their knowledge of history through on-site historical education."
A few years ago, Miller met with Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough during his visit for the Ogden School Foundation's fall author event. McCullough told Miller about a program in Maine in which public schoolteachers visit historical sites and learn more about the subject, according to Starks.
"Larry is very passionate about democracy and American history. He is worried about losing connections with the past. It's the bedrock of democracy," Starks said.
Miller wasn't available for comment due to to health issues.
Starks said Miller talked with officials in Maine and in Jordan School District to gain information before launching the history program in Utah.
Two history professors at Weber State University, Gene Sessions and Richard Sadler, hopped on board. The program is now based at WSU.
The first seminar was last summer and included history of the West. Sixteen teachers, along with Sessions and Sadler, boarded a bus and visited sites all over the state. Fred Gowans, a retired Brigham Young University history professor, joined the group. The history educators studied mountain men, fur traders, Mormon settlers and American Indians, as well as travel modes, including wagons, handcarts and railroad.
This year's group of teachers who went to Washington, D.C., said it was an incredible week of collaboration and learning. "The best thing was going with people who share my passion for history. It was amazing to me," said Libby Robertson, who teaches eighth-grade history at Willowcreek Middle School in Lehi.
The teachers will share what they have learned with their students this fall. "We can't wait to get back and teach it," said Russ Porter, who instructs 11th-grade history at Bonneville High School in Ogden.
Robertson said, "Most of the students in Lehi haven't traveled east of the Rockies. All they will know about the historical sites is what I tell them."
Beck said there are many Hispanic students in her school who don't have the basics of how this country was started. "A lot of lives were sacrificed to get to where we are today so we can have freedoms," she said.
Each of the 30 teachers on the D.C. trip was assigned to prepare a lesson plan to share. Cody Bowen, who teaches history at Summit High School in Kamas, South Summit School District, taught a lesson on the Amish. Others spotlighted the Lincoln Memorial, Independence Hall and Mount Vernon.
The teachers were assigned homework before the trip, including reading four books: "Miracle in Philadelphia," "Founding Brothers," "Killer Angels" and "1776."
Bowen said it was especially helpful to have Sessions and Sadler on site to lecture on the historical background. "There's just something about being able to say, 'I've been there. This is what it's like."'Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, even gave the teachers a personal two-hour tour of the Capitol. He is a former history and civics teacher.