July 12, 2004

Contact: Becky Eason, KU Institute for Educational Research and Public Service, (785) 864-0579.

KU professors and Liberal teachers work to enrich interest in Kansas history

LAWRENCE -- Two University of Kansas professors are working this summer with history teachers in Liberal to develop new online resources to help them improve the teaching of Kansas history.

The work is funded by a three-year, $570,000 U.S. Department of Education grant and involves KU, the Liberal school district and the Coronado Museum in Liberal.

Until a few years ago, Kansas history was not required for K-12 students. Consequently, many Kansas teachers have limited background and training in teaching history about the state, said James Tramill, KU associate research professor at the Institute for Educational Research and Public Service in KU's School of Education.

Tramill wrote the grant to enhance resources for history teachers in Liberal's USD 480 and statewide.

Tramill and Rita Napier, KU history professor who specializes in early Kansas history, traveled to Liberal for a June 7 through 11 workshop and met with 16 Liberal teachers selected to participate in the first year of the project. The teachers are preparing units on Kansas history that will be available to anyone through the USD 480 Web site and KU's Education Research and Public Service Web pages, Tramill said.

Tramill and Napier hope to return to Liberal in August to launch the new history units online with the Liberal teachers.

KU also will have a Kansas/American history Web site as a resource for the teachers that will include a chat room for teachers to exchange ideas and questions about teaching history. Shawn Agnew, KU graduate student in music, is helping develop the history site. KU's School of Education is the only school in the state that requires education students to study Kansas history.

Napier regards the Liberal teachers' project as a boost to enriching interest in teaching and learning about Kansas history. "Often people are unaware of the rich history Kansas has -- particularly the southwest corner of the state," Napier said. "People tend to stereotype Kansas history much as the Kansas landscape is stereotyped as flat and featureless. Southwest Kansas in particular has a pretty important place in American history."

During the 16th century both the Spanish and French claimed the area, which was part of a major trade route from St. Louis to Mexico, she noted.

Long before the European explorers entered what is now southwest Kansas, the area was home to Native Americans. Napier added that a little more than 100 miles north of Liberal, near Lake Scott State Park, is El Quartelejo (el KWAR-tuh-lay-ho), the ancient ruins of the only Indian pueblo in Kansas.

"It's a site that surprises people even in the High Plains," Napier said. "When you get there you can see how the buttes protected the site." To escape the Spanish, the Pueblo Indians traveled north into what is now Kansas through their contact with the Apache Indians in the area. "The Apaches learned to grow corn from the Pueblos," Napier said. "We had cultures coming together in this area very early."

One team of teachers is preparing a unit that will focus on Liberal's early Spanish history. Approximately half the students enrolled in Liberal's schools are from minority populations, particularly from Mexico and Central America. The Liberal teachers told Napier and Tramill they hoped their new history unit would help newly arrived immigrant students to recognize that "we're not really newcomers here."

During a weeklong workshop with the Liberal teachers, Napier presented new material on Kansas history that has been researched in the past 10 years. In addition, Napier and Tramill spent time with Sherry Taylor, director of the Coronado Museum, discovering a rich cache of material, some of which remains stored in boxes.

The museum, which includes a replica of the 1930s farmhouse featured in "The Wizard of Oz," has a rich collection of small artifacts and area photographs as well as letters describing experiences of settlers in the area. Napier said that the museum is a primary resource for teachers and students on area history along with Web resources such as Territorial Kansas Online, http://www.territorialkansasonline.org.

"It is a challenging landscape," Napier said, referring to the arid High Plains of southwest Kansas. The area receives about half as much rain each year as the eastern counties. The story of how people have figured out how to live in the arid High Plains fascinates Napier.

"People are in the same circumstances throughout this High Plains area, which includes Garden City, Dodge City and Elkhart, for example," Napier said. "They live in an arid climate and depend on agriculture based on corporate farms, feedlots and meatpacking plants. Their rural industrial story is one of the big economic success stories in Kansas."

Each teacher in the Teaching American History program received a small honorarium. Teachers participating this summer are:

Lynette Armstrong -- Cottonwood Intermediate School
Kay Bert -- Sunflower Intermediate School
Tiffany Bottom -- West Middle School
Polly Brown -- Sunflower Middle School
Larry Carter -- South Middle School
Linda Cooley -- Sunflower Intermediate School
Lyn Day -- Cottonwood Intermediate School
Myrna McClellan -- Cottonwood Intermediate School
Sue Meuten -- Cottonwood Intermediate School
Eydie Petty -- Cottonwood Intermediate School
Gloria Pittman -- Sunflower Intermediate School
Jennifer Ruckman -- Cottonwood Intermediate School
Therese Symons -- West Middle School
Angela Teeter -- Sunflower Intermediate School
Naomi Vargas -- West Middle School
Kathy Wedel -- Sunflower Intermediate School

Gary Koehan -- activities coordinator (recently retired American history teacher)
Beth Koehan -- technology coordinator (recently retired intermediate school principal)

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