College professors take part in national program on history

By Mickey Winfield: PNT Staff Writer

It’s not often that the teacher becomes the student, but it’s been happening for the past two summers in Portales.

As part of a U.S. Department of Education program, Eastern New Mexico University history professor Don Elder and Clovis Community College history professor Mike Powers are giving Portales area teachers a graduate level New Mexico history class, so that they can better teach their students in return.

The classes are part of a three-year program that came with a $1 million federal grant attached to it to enhance the quality of history education, and Portales is one of just three communities in the state to get that grant.

The grant requires a partnership with an institute of higher learning, and it just so happened that Portales has a four-year institution — Eastern New Mexico University.

“(We) figured that if we could make the public school teachers more familiar with the history of the area,” Elder said, “they’d be able to teach kids in their classes more about the history of the area, and if they could get excited about that — because it is their local history, it is where they are growing up, that they’ll get more excited about history in general.”

The class met five days a week during the summer, three hours per class, and the group took field trips on Saturdays. One field trip took the group to Fort Sumner, another took them to the Roswell Goddard Planetarium.

In the two years the program has existed, seven Portales area teachers have taken the course — and gotten more than just an education in New Mexico history.

In addition to the three-hour graduate-level history class at ENMU, the teachers also receive a $1,000 stipend, along with two textbooks for the class and several instructional DVDs.

The teachers also received a new, high-tech way to teach their classes.

Each of the teachers got electronic responders to take back to their class rooms. Each of their students get one of the gadgets, which allows the teacher to know almost immediately how many students got a given question right.

The teacher asks a question, the students press a button on the responder corresponding to their answer, and the teacher instantly gets the results.

“As soon as you put a question on the board,” Elder said, “You immediately know how many students got the question right, and if they missed the question, what answer they thought it was.”

The program will finish its three-year run next summer, and Portales Municipal Schools Superintendent Randy Fowler believes it’s been a huge success.

“This program is a tremendous help in the area of helping our educators learn how to teach New Mexico history,” Fowler said.

“We met our goal each year,” Elder said. “We’ve had what we think is positive feedback where students thought that this was a beneficial experience.”