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Robert C. Byrd Center hosts teacher institute for re-visioning public school civics and history teaching

ISSUED: 5 July 2023

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Shepherd University’s Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education welcomed 30 middle and high school teachers and education majors to its summer workshop, “People Powered: Civic Action, Community Engagement, and American Representative Democracy.” The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation awarded the Byrd Center $136,250 grant for the initiative, which is designed to expand civics education in West Virginia.

Participating teachers attended sessions either virtually or in-person that covered topics such as handling discourse across differences, experienced-based learning in the classroom, and how to use resources at the Byrd Center in their lessons. Each teacher was awarded a $1,000 professional development stipend to use toward classroom materials and resources.

“We hope the People Powered concepts of civic engagement will be translated into West Virginia’s classrooms,” said Dr. Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, project director. “The goal is to give students a sense of pride and encourage engagement in democratic processes that will become lifelong habits.”

Teachers sitting in a classroom participating in the People Powered Project.

Caitlin Barker, who teaches eighth-grade West Virginia history, is participating so she can find more resources to utilize in her classes.

“Especially in West Virginia history, there is a lack of resources and information that can be used for students in the classroom,” Barker said. “Teaching such a specific state history, I have a hard time finding age-appropriate material online to supplement my lessons. I think this will be a good opportunity to enrich my own ‘teacher pocket,’ in a sense, to use in the classroom.”

Two teachers from Washington High, Ashley Malott and Sarah Florek, are hoping the program will enhance what they teach as well.

“I’m doing the People Powered Project to enhance the civic education that I’m offering to West Virginia students and encourage positive voting behaviors and further civic education in our youth,” said Sarah Florek, civics and government teacher.

“I haven’t studied much local and state history in a long time, so this gives me a little bit of refresher, provides a little bit of local tie-in to incorporate into my global history classes,” said Ashley Malott, who teaches advanced placement classes in world history, psychology, and European studies.

There are two parts to the People Powered Project—participation in this summer workshop and a capstone presentation and competition in April 2024 where participating teachers will present what they’ve done during the school year to transform their history and civics classrooms. The winner will bring back a $5,000 prize, while two runners up will win second prizes of $2,500, to be used to enhance programs at their schools and provide resources and materials that foster excellence in teaching.

Participants in the People Powered Project are:

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