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GCPS gets grant to improve teaching of American history

SUWANEE -- Gwinnett County Public Schools has received a $927,763 grant from the U.S. Department of Education for a professional development program that will improve teachers' knowledge of American history, an administrator said.

The federal agency awarded a total of $115.3 million to 124 districts nationwide -- including four in Georgia, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced this week. The other Georgia school districts that received awards were Cobb County, Paulding County and Savannah-Chatham County.

The Teaching American History grant program aims to enhance teachers' understanding of American history through intensive professional development, including study trips to historic sites and mentoring with professional historians and other experts, according to a news release.

"During this time of education cutbacks, I think this will provide our teachers with content-specific knowledge and resources and hands-on experiences and collaborative opportunities," said Debbie Daniell, the school system's director of social studies. "I think that once we have implemented this grant, we will see the desired increase of our students' knowledge of American history."

The school system's grant, titled "American History: Examining Years of Economic Strides," will allow the district's 150 U.S. history teachers to participate in projects focused on topics in American history with economic themes behind them, Daniell said. The projects will give teachers a better understanding of economic analysis and the reasoning to events taught in an American history class, she said.

For the grant, the school system was required to partner with organizations that have broad knowledge of American history. GCPS has partnered with the National Archives, the Georgia Council on Economic Education, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the New York Stock Exchange and the Smithsonian Institute. The school system has also developed partnerships with professors at Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University, Winthrop University and the University of Wisconsin, as well as the chief curator for the Smithsonian Institute.

As part of the program, teachers will develop units of study based on their research and exploration, Daniell said. The resulting lesson plans will be used by all teachers in the district. The educators will also present at state and national conferences and conduct American history conferences for all teachers in the school system.

Teachers who participate in the program will receive stipends and professional learning units, Daniell said.

The three-year grant could be extended to four or five years, Daniell said. If extended to five years, the total grant amount will be $1.4 million.

Daniell said the money will help the school system tremendously in its ongoing improvement efforts.

"I am thrilled to be a recipient of this grant," she said. "I was beside myself, to be perfectly honest. ... We worked very hard ... to get the data and all the partners on board. We thought about how is it going to benefit teachers and support the teaching and learning of American history."

Nearly 500 school systems applied for the grant in March, Daniell said.