Last month 37 Omaha Public School teachers enrolled in Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Master of Arts in Historical Studies Program.
This marks the first time the graduate program has been offered in Omaha, thanks to the U.S. Department of Education’s “Teaching American History Grant Program.”
“We’ve been trying to initiate a program in Omaha for several years,” said Kevin Bower, assistant professor of history and director of historical studies. “We’re thrilled to have this opportunity.”
In August, the Department of Education awarded Omaha Public Schools (OPS) a grant for nearly $1 million, which will provide funding for more than 60 OPS teachers to pursue their master’s degree over the next three years. Thirty-seven of those teachers started classes in January; 25 more will begin the program next summer.
Bower says the Omaha program will follow the lead of Lincoln’s program. At present, 100 teachers from Lincoln, Millard, Gretna, Waverly as well as teachers from four partner schools on or near Indian reservations in northeastern Nebraska are participating in Nebraska Wesleyan’s Master of Historical Studies Program in Lincoln.
“It’s made a significant difference in the classrooms,” Bower said of the graduate program. “Teachers are seeing improved test scores, and they are closing the achievement gap between students of different ethnicities and economic backgrounds.”
The Lincoln program kicked off much the same way as the Omaha program, with a Teaching American History Grant that provided funding for teachers from Lincoln Public Schools.
Bower said Nebraska Wesleyan’s Historical Studies Program is unique in that it immerses history teachers in the raw materials of historic places, artifacts, and documents. Students in the Lincoln program, for example, have traveled to Fort Robinson State Park for the course “Shifting Power on the Plains.” While there, students also visited Fort Laramie National Historic Site and Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
Locally, students visit public and private museums and state agencies that connect them to the necessary resources needed to develop innovative teaching methods. During spring break, students will travel to Memphis, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, as part of a course on the civil rights movement.
Bower said the Omaha program will also offer local and national field trips. The Omaha program is being led by Iain Anderson, associate professor of history and associate director of historical studies. Anderson is new to Nebraska Wesleyan and previously taught at Dana College.
The Historical Studies Program takes seven semesters to complete and students take classes in the evening and summer months. To date, 88 teachers have graduated with a master's degree in historical studies since the program first began awarding degrees in 2007.
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