An eighth-grade teacher at Pleasanton Middle School was one of 36 educators selected nationwide to take part in a humanities-focused institute in Massachusetts this past summer.
Katie Orenberg, who teaches history and drama to eighth-grade students, was chosen from an applicant pool of 328 teachers from across the country to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for Teachers in Lowell, Mass., the nation's first large-scale planned industrial city.
Orenberg said attending the week-long institute will be instrumental in her teaching going forward.
"Having the opportunity to participate in The Lowell Experience will have a transformational effect on the way I teach social movements and reform in industrializing America," she told the Weekly. "I will take back with me, and share with my students, the honor and privilege of 'spending time with' the young women and immigrants who worked in these mills, pouring myself into their letters and diaries in the place where they experienced it."
The NEH Summer Institutes are held at different historic sites in order to allow teachers to study key themes and issues from U.S. history, government, literature, art, music and other humanities subjects in relevant locations. This particular institute, "Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America: The Lowell Experience," was held through a partnership with the Tsongas Industrial History Center at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
"I congratulate the educators selected to participate in this year's 'Social Movements and Reform in Industrializing America' institute in Lowell, a place inextricably linked with America's Industrial Revolution, which was born on the banks of the Merrimack River," said Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, who represents the Massachusetts third district. Her late husband, former U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas, is the center's namesake.
"Lowell did not just lead in the industrialization of the economy, but also in the social movements and reform that followed in wake of a fast-changing society," she continued. "Women leaders such as Sarah Bagley and the thousands of Mill Girls who fought for better working conditions and wages had an indelible impact on American history."
The workshop included presentations and field studies of Old Sturbridge Village and Walden Pond, allowing participants to look at changes in work, society, culture and the environment between 1820 and 1860, and their effect on reform movements related to labor, women's rights and slavery.
Lesson plan development using primary sources was a focus.
"Engaging with primary sources in a meaningful and regular way takes the mystery of history and trepidation of not understanding away," Orenberg said. "Students can see themselves in these stories: People with hopes and dreams; people with flaws; people who achieved wonderful and lasting legacies despite obstacles."
This is not Orenberg's first pedagogical research foray -- she has also participated in fellowships at Jefferson's Monticello, Mount Vernon and the Delta Center for Culture and Learning in Cleveland, Miss. She sees seeking out these opportunities as part of her job as an educator.
"Perhaps history itself doesn't change, but our perception of it certainly can based on what we learn and find," she said. "One of the most important things I can do as a teacher is remain a lifelong student and be open to new perspectives. If I want my students to be curious, investigate, and find their own voices, I should be continuously modeling it."