By Jay Wyatt
The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education started its teacher institute program three years ago. Our first two workshops were held at the Byrd Center in Shepherdstown in 2016 and 2017 and drew grades k-12 public and private school educators from the Eastern Panhandle and Potomac Highlands regions of West Virginia. The teachers learned about and received training with teaching resources developed by the Center for Legislative Archives (a division of the National Archives and Records Administration) and by the Byrd Center. This summer, with the support of a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council, we took the show on the road and conducted one-day institutes at the Cultural Center in Charleston, the State Fairgrounds in Lewisburg, and WVU’s Downtown Library in Morgantown, where we reached a broader group of educators, introducing them to new methods of teaching students about representative government and the United States Congress in the process.
At each teacher institute, educators participated in a four hands-on learning modules presented by Dr. Charles Flanagan, Outreach Supervisor for the Center for Legislative Archives (CLA). Built on the vast holdings of the CLA, which includes all the official records of Congress dating to the very first Congress, these modules included a collaborative exercise in which students “map” the Constitution, dissecting the document by reviewing the powers it enumerates and to which branch those powers are delegated. A follow-up exercise that works in conjunction with the digital app. Congress Creates the Bill of Rights engaged teachers with the extensive debates that occurred in the House and Senate over the scope and content of the bills that eventually formed the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Select political cartoons from the CLA’s Clifford Berryman Collection were the focus of a session during which educators explored the separation of powers and the legislative process through visual images. Dr. Flanagan’s final module engaged attendees in a in a collaborative board game-style lesson plan that outlined how a bill becomes law. In the afternoon, educators received lesson plans derived from the holdings of the Byrd Center. These resources included a lesson plan that uses materials relating to the 1985 Election Day Floods in WV to explore the state and federal responses to environmental disasters. This module was developed jointly by the Byrd Center and the West Virginia and Regional History Center’s political collections at West Virginia University.
Through collaboration with our venues and hosts, we were also able to provide special tours and other sessions at our institute. For our workshop in Charleston, educators received a welcome and presentation from Joseph Geiger, Director of the WV State Archives, who introduced several collections and online resources. At Morgantown, we received a behind-the-scenes tour of the West Virginia and Regional History Center from Assistant Director Lori Hostuttler. Educators also had the opportunity to view an exhibit of congressional records from the center’s collections. At the State Fairgrounds, workshop participants explored a teaching module developed by the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress based on the digital exhibit The Great Society Congress, which features records from our Robert C. Byrd and Harley O. Staggers, Sr. Congressional Papers collections.
Expanding our professional development initiatives across the state has been no small task. We express our sincere gratitude to Michelle Kubiak (WV Library Commission), Joe Geiger, Lori Hostuttler and Danielle Emerling at WVU Libraries and the WV and Regional History Center, and the West Virginia Humanities Council, whose support was instrumental in the success of the teacher institutes. Special thanks also go to Charles Flanagan who has been an essential part of our efforts to improve and expand civic education in West Virginia. We also thank Shepherd University’s Continuing Education program for providing administrative support to the institute. If you are interested in learning more about the teacher institute and possibly participating in our final workshop on August 9, 2018, contact Dr. James Wyatt at email@example.com or (304) 876-5701.