Stephens Recognized as National History Teacher of the Year for Pennsylvania
By Suzanne Misciagna, Correspondent, UnionvilleTimes.com
POCOPSON – Students at Pocopson Elementary School weren’t the only ones put in the spotlight during the school’s Geography Bee assembly earlier this month. One of their teachers, Ryan Stephens, was officially recognized during the assembly as the recipient of the 2011 National History Teacher of the Year Award for Pennsylvania.
The award recognizes outstanding American history teachers from all 50 states, elementary school through high school.
Representatives from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History were on hand to present Stephens with a monetary award along with an archive of books and historical resources showcasing American history. Stephens also received a stipend to travel to a summer history seminar of his choice.
Founded in 1994, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of America is a nonprofit organization supporting the study and love of American history through a wide range of programs and resources for students, teachers, scholars, and history enthusiasts throughout the nation.
Stephens, a fifth grade teacher at Pocopson Elementary, was nominated by Pocopson’s Principal, Dr. Andrew McLaughlin. The nomination encompassed Stephens’ love of history and his creativity in teaching American history in the classroom.
An important tool Stephens draws upon in teaching American history is the Freedom Shrine – a showcase of 30 historical American documents – prominently displayed in Pocopson’s second floor hallway. These documents, ranging from The Mayflower Compact of 1620, The Declaration of Independence of 1776, to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963, highlight major milestones in the study of American history.
Stephens was instrumental in helping secure the donation of the Freedom Shrine to Pocopson back in 2010 by the Americanism Committee of the West Chester Exchange Club, a nonprofit community service organization. Since then, teachers like Stephens use the documents in the classroom to bring American history to life.
“I just want to make history interesting for students,” says Stephens. “Sometimes kids think Social Studies can be boring; but by using different materials like primary source documents from the Freedom Shrine, or posters, or picture books, it makes teaching history more interesting.”
For example, when students in Stephens’ class were studying a lesson on Martin Luther King, they could actually read the source document of his “I Have a Dream Speech” included in the Freedom Shrine. He then had the students interpret the speech and describe what it meant to them. Or, when teaching about a subject such as the Mayflower Compact, “We can look at the source document right here in school. If we can’t read the actual writing on the document, I can supplement it with a book so they can see what the document says,” he adds.
Stephens now has an additional archive of classroom materials he received from the award such as American history posters, history DVD’s, and primary source documents to name a few. All are housed in the school library as a resource for teachers and students.
“I’ve always had a love of history,” he says. “I like reading about interesting people and events.” Stephens hopes to foster this same love of history in his fifth grade students too.