That History Day Guy

November 12, 2007

Two New History Day Warriors

Filed under: Uncategorized — historydayguy @ 6:19 pm

Ok, so it has been awhile since I have put fingertips to key pad but I have been a very busy boy: traveling the state to spread the History Day gospel and fighting the forces of evil who seek to squash it! Two new History Day warriors are Charles W. Brandy and Anthony Brooks. Both are directors of Social Studies programs in large Districts: (Buffalo and Yonkers NY) both have diverse schools and teachers. Each face challenges to get the best resources and academic opportunities for their students in the face of social and economic forces that exist in their district, and both have taken the big plunge and are asking their teachers to add a program to their packed schedules.

In Buffalo I saw ten schools and twelve teachers. They ranged from new young teachers who looked like deer in the headlights to seasoned veterans. Some I could see the gears turning in their heads as they thought how to make this great history research project work for their kids, as others wondered why a man in spandex and a cape with NYSHD across his chest was visiting them in their break room.

In Buffalo I sat in several classes and heard such great ideas for topics. They came organically as teachers and students answered questions to the questions at the end of the section, or discussed the legal system. The challenges faced by newly freed blacks as they faced the cycle of Share Cropping, desegregation of BPS in 1976, and even the building of highways with city tax dollars that split a neighborhood so those that fled the city for the suburbs could come to work in the city.

I saw schools built by the WPA with amazing murals depicting young Caucasian men working with the latest technology (Air Planes, zeppelins, electric factory machines) where a man in a dashiki checked me in and the students were mainly African American, Asian, West African immigrants and very few Caucasian.

Director strode through each of these schools with pride and enthusiasm. He talked to old friends, adults and kids, talked on his cell phone putting out small fires, and gave knowing glances to first year teachers as he shared his interest in this IMPORTANT NEW PROGRAM!

Mr. Brandy or Woody as his oldest and most senior friends call him recognized the benefits of New York State History Day. He came to our state contest last year to see the wok of students from around the state, and he knows that the benefits of this program will make a difference to his students. He believes his teachers can be the mentors, and facilitators required, and the buffalo will be a strong hold for the program. I know he is right.
I visited schools that were located in the heart of the city, in office buildings where students spent part of their day in classes at community colleges, and other schools that were flag ship schools where enormous amounts of money had been spent on innovative school design and students resources, and still others that stood since the 1950’s and seemed to have the same furniture.

Anthony Brooks is new to his position in Yonkers, and this can be daunting. Being the new kid and having to get teachers who were working before you were born to follow your lead is a real trick.

Tony mentored kids to win first place in the documentary category in previous years. He has set a date for a district wide contest and he stands to rock Rockland County and I am so looking forward to seeing his kids in the winner’s circle!

His district faces challenges as well. As we drove through the streets of Yonkers we rolled up windows and locked doors in pockets, and strolled the streets looking for coffee in others. It’s like many of the cities around the country. It reminded me of my Hometown of Pensacola, where affluence and overtly mingled street by street, and our classrooms reflected that face. We went to this 1900s mansion on the Hudson. Sounds Fancy right? It was more like the house on haunted hill. Trees that had been split by lightning in the 70s still lay in the yard. Paint peeled and crystal chandeliers hung black while florescent lighting buzzed through the once grand rooms. Despite the lack luster accommodations around 20 teachers turned out to listen. Some came with snarky comments at the face of a new program, but after seeing Charlotte Burger’s award winning Video, they were all sold on some level. We will return on Tuesday for a hands-on workshop for about 50 teachers.

There is such hope in our public schools. They can be places of desperation and alienation, but the people I met over the last two weeks are passionate about learning and committed to kids in some of the most challenging circumstances. These kids are the ones I want to see participating. Don’t get me wrong, I want every child in America participating, but I want the faces of National History Day Students to reflect the face of real America. The one where we are all different but share the same broader history, all while living and reflecting our own personal, ethnic, social and religious backgrounds.

Hooray for Buffalo. Hooray for Yonkers. Hooray for Woody! Hooray for Tony!


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