Teachers add moisture to dry history lessons

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

WEST MILFORD — In prior decades, public school students, whether in a history or social studies class, were often unable to discern the differences. The text was frequently referred to as a "history" book, sometimes for obvious reasons. Budgetary constraints meant students were being taught from books that were a decade or more old. Today that has changed, as has the state-mandated course of study for junior and senior high school students. Earlier in this school year, "the New Jersey State Board of Education formally adopted new social studies core curriculum content standards for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade," says Jeanne Apryasz, social studies supervisor in the West Milford school system. "The previous standards, adopted in 1996, were highly criticized as being vague and not consistent with current research in social studies education, which led the state Board of Education to make revisions." The 2004 standards are built around several themes. These include social studies skills, civics, world history, United States and New Jersey history, economics, and geography. Apryasz says there are benchmarks for each component in second, fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades that outline the content and skills that students are expected to acquire. "The goal of the new standards is to foster students' appreciation for their American heritage while developing their understanding of the modern world. To comprehend the complexities of historical issues and their relevance today, the standards emphasize the importance of literacy in civics, economics, and geography." Today's students don't just learn from a book. Instead, since the school year's start, high school students have had a diverse batch of learning experiences. "Between class trips, guest speakers, and extracurricular clubs, the students are enjoying a stimulating learning experience in social studies," said Apryasz. In September, the United States History II classes visited the half-size Vietnam Moving Memorial Wall replica when it was on display in Jefferson Township. On Nov. 11, they met local Vietnam veterans, including Patrick Loughman, Glen Wenzel, and Tom Clare who visited the school as guest speakers on Veterans' Day. The U.S. History II classes also were scheduled for a class trip to Ellis Island when they study the history of immigration in the United States. Back in October, "a number of students in United States History I visited Waterloo Village as an extension of their studies in early American history. Students in other History I classes learned about "material culture" in a lecture by William Higbie, who displayed his collection of 18th century artifacts. Also on tap, shortly before the anniversary of George Washington's famous crossing of the Delaware, was a class trip to the Trenton Old Barracks as part of their Revolutionary War studies. After classes, members of the history department advise numerous extracurricular activities. In addition to existing clubs, such as Mock Trial, history film club, history simulation club, and Model Congress, Teacher Greg Matlosz reestablished Model United Nations and the Debate Team, while Jennifer Metcalf initiated E.R.A.S.E., which stands for "Erase Racism and Sexism Everywhere."