Back for the Future


With eyes on their own curriculum, Waterville High School social studies teachers attend Colby

By Julia Hanauer-Milne
Photography by Fred Field

Alan Haley (second from left), chair of the history department at Waterville High School, in David Nugent's anthropology class at Colby. Haley and his colleagues are enrolling in Colby courses as part of an innovative partnership aimed at improving public school curricula.
Photo by Fred Field
Alan Haley loves strolling into Lovejoy 102 each Wednesday afternoon to soak up the wealth of ideas and information presented in Race and Ethnicity, a class taught by Professor David Nugent (anthropology).

For two hours, all that Haley has to do is sit back and listen"and offer a comment when appropriate.

A luxury? You bet, because Haley is no typical college student, but rather the 55-year-old chair of the Waterville High School (WHS) social studies department. He and his colleagues are participating in an innovative program that allows them to enroll in Colby classes. The intent: to add to and make current the teachers' knowledge of their subjects and then revamp the high school social studies curriculum.

"It makes us far more effective teachers, because it gives you time to think about what you're doing and what's important," Haley said. "Being freed to take these courses means I get to think deeply."

And by concentrating that way, Haley hopes to create courses that will lead his students to understand not only historical events, but also the forces that shape them.

Funded by a three-year, $150,000 grant awarded to Colby by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the program allows two social studies teachers per year to take up to four courses at Colby. This year Haley and colleague Ken Lindlof went back to school. Next year two other teachers"Andy Dumont '80 and Don Ashton (husband of Cate Talbot Ashton '80, associate director of career services)"will come to Colby, followed by the remaining teacher, Nancy Lamontagne, in the third year.

The grant also allows the teachers enrolled at Colby to hand off half of their high school responsibilities to a relief teacher. That way they can concentrate on their Colby coursework and build a new curriculum. And they're not just auditing these courses. Like their younger classmates, the high school teachers receive grades and are responsible for papers, exams, and classwork.

Sitting in class with students more than 30 years younger isn't easy for Haley, though he's grateful for the opportunity. "I know how to talk to kids as a teacher and a counselor," he said, "but not as co-equals. I have a lot of advantages though. I have a lot of study skills."

Professor James Webb (history), the grant's project director, says the grant is great for everyone: the teachers get to brush up their knowledge, while Colby strengthens its ties to the community. That's just what happened when Webb's Historical Epidemiology students participated in Disease Day at the high school by presenting their research last fall.

The grant also requires the Waterville High teachers to share their learning with others. Haley and three fellow teachers"Dumont, Ashton, and Lindlof"presented their new world history curriculum at the Northeast Regional Conference on the Social Studies in Boston in March. Other conferences in Maine are expected to follow too, Webb said. "What we're hoping is [the grant] will have an impact statewide."

Haley began his year at Colby last fall by taking Principles of Microeconomics and World History: Patterns and Processes, both of which were enormously helpful in reworking the high school's world history course, he said. As a result, WHS students are learning about the beginnings of capitalism in medieval Europe and tracing the system through time to the present day. The course includes studies of the 16th-century Brazilian sugar trade, the rise of the coffee trade in the Indian Ocean, and the 16th-century Italian salt monopoly. Students will conclude the course with a study of global technology in the 21st century. This spring Haley is taking Principles of Macroeconomics in addition to Race and Ethnicity: Cross-Cultural Perspectives.

How did Haley and his colleagues decide on these topics? "Teaching and studying history is always an issue of picking and choosing," he said. "That choice is usually formed up in the needs of the day. The need right now is not studying the pyramids in Egypt"It's globalization."

Haley and his fellow teachers aren't wasting any time putting their new knowledge to work. Students are test driving the new world history curriculum this spring, much of it online. At the class Web site, students find interactive graphs and charts, links for further reading, lecture notes, and assignments. Haley, who has taught at WHS since 1988, hopes that creating online course components will allow the school eventually to eliminate social studies textbooks, which are expensive and quickly outdated.

Though the frame and delivery methods may be different, that doesn't mean students won't learn about the pyramids"or U.S. history for that matter. Instead they will learn how events in history were shaped by larger worldwide economic, political, and social forces, just as they are today. "We are studying globalization as it happens," Haley said. "We will be picking up things such as the interaction of cultures, war, and peace. This will change our focus from a western experience to history as a worldwide experience."
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  • On November 3, 2006, Carol Conzelman wrote:
    I am very impressed with and encouraged by this innovative program! I am a former high school teacher and current anthropology doctoral candidate, and it is goal of mine to integrate anthropology into secondary curricula wherever I end up teaching. I can use this program at Colby as a way to promote this idea on other campuses. Thank you for your willingness to think outside the box and foster greater collaboration between the university and the community. We can all benefit from such initiatives!