Clarification: The photos which accompany this story are not from the trip described in the article. They were taken during a private group tour which included several local teachers.
While students have been enjoying their summer vacation, some of their teachers have been gaining knowledge to take back to the classroom in the fall.
As part of the Teaching American History grant, educators have travelled to Boston, Mass. and Washington D.C. over the summer to take part in active history lessons -- in the very locations where our country's history began.
TAH is a three-year, million-dollar grant. Its purpose is to encourage educators to experience history and inspire them to make America's history come alive to the youth they teach.
Bedford County partnered with Moore County for the grant, and this year took 27 educators, including school board members, school supervisors and a professor from Middle Tennessee State University. Seven were from Moore County.
All of the county's history teachers have been invited to attend this and various other trips during the three years of the grant. Teachers from other subject areas have also attended, and learned new ways to introduce history into their own curriculum.
"I had 50 slots that I could fill, but I turned no one away that qualified and signed a contract," said Betsy Norris, grant coordinator for Bedford County Schools.
Primarily serving students in grades K through 8, according to Norris, the criteria to participate in the grant went beyond the opportunity to travel.
Educators must complete an application and agree to work in some capacity as a history educator. They must attend all TAH sessions during the school year, provide peer tutoring, complete testing and journaling, make use of provided history software and write lesson plans to share with their fellow teachers. Some Saturday and after-school work is also required.
"Truly many teachers did not want to participate because of the many hours required," said Norris.
The group travelled to Boston earlier this month, as part of a three-day, two-night tour. "Days are jam packed," said Norris.
On day one, the group toured Boston's Freedom Trail including Bunker Hill with a local guide, visited the USS Constitution and the former home of Paul Revere.
On the second day, the group toured the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, and toured Plymouth Mass. visiting the famed rock, and being admitted to the Mayflower II.
At the Plymouth Plantation, a living history museum of 17th century Plymouth, costumed interpreters portrayed residents of the colony. The group also met "Paul Revere" at a presentation at Old North Church.
On the final day, the educators travelled the Battle Trail to Lexington and Concord to view the sites of the first battles of the Revolutionary War, visited Abbot Hall to view the original "Spirit of 76" painting, and toured the Salem Witch Museum in Salem, Mass.
"It is definitely a learning experience," said Norris.
The group stayed together and were led by a grant evaluator, "His job was to keep everyone on task ensuring grant money is spent appropriately," said Norris. The cost of the evaluator's services are included in the grant, and his role ensures all grant expenditures are made correctly.
MTSU professor David Rowe accompanied the group, making ties from the tour presentations to local teaching standards, and to what is being taught in classrooms.
"This is also a great public-relations builder between teachers, administrators and board members," said Norris, "He felt like it would be great for board members to experience what teachers were experiencing and also to recognize the importance of history within our system," said Norris.
Tiffany Swain, a teacher at Cascade Elementary School, took a similar tour last year to Williamsburg, Va. "It's really neat to experience it versus reading about it in a textbook."
Jan Hix, who teaches at South Side Elementary, finds that her third grade students are especially interested in the concept of slavery. "Probably the part I liked best was when we went to the slave plantation, because it taught us a lot of information that I had never known. When we discussed it in class, it was nice to have the perspective from the visit and the pictures I took to be able to explain the types of things they did, they way [the slaves] were treated," said Hix.
Grant participants also received history software they may use in Bedford County classrooms. The participants were required to attend a history conference in December where speakers included George Washington from Williamsburg and New York's Guilder Lehrman's Institute of American History.
School board members who attended included Amy Martin, Dixie Parker and Dr. Andrea Anderson. Board member Diane Neely was scheduled for the tour, but had to cancel the week of the trip.
The trip cost about $1,500 per person, and reservations were non-refundable.
"The grant has been much more than a three-day trip," said Norris. "I am very appreciative that this grant has been able to touch lives. We've had classroom teachers that had never flown, never seen the Liberty Bell, never stood where Benjamin Franklin stood -- and on and on -- and those things can't be learned in a university, but those history experiences can improve teaching."
For Hix, the experience has improved her effectiveness as a teacher. "I think my teaching has become a lot more exciting because of what I've learned."