Excellence in Action – We shine a historical spotlight on Detroit and the Great Lakes region
Since 2015,the social studies department has revitalized and localized the way history is taught at University Liggett School. Administrators and faculty were frustrated with the traditional approach to teaching history, which typically bounces around the country to famous places and events.The traditional approach to United States history usually ignores student passions, as well as connections between a students community and national trends over time.
So a team set out to redefine the way to teach American history and the way students at University Liggett School would learn about history -- creating the 10th-grade course, "Approaching the National Narrative through a Local Lens."
In the class, students learn about U.S. history through the lens of Detroit and the Great Lakes region serves as an extension of the classroom. Students examine local and regional history that illustrates the larger themes of U.S. history and then go on a series of site visits, in which they act as historians.
History is much more meaningful for students when they view it through a local lens and are able to relate it back to modern times, course instructor Adam Hellebuyck said.
Each year, students typically explore the Sanilac Petroglyphs, The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, Canal Park in Clinton Township and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park, among other locations.
History is constantly expanding and so is this course, Hellebuyck said. "It's a living, breathing program that changes every year based on the opportunities we have in the community, the interests of our students and the expertise of our faculty. This program is a success because of the strong collaborations between students, faculty, administrators, and members of the community."
A great example of this approach, took place on a cool, gray morning in November, when 70 students hiked through the woods and brush of Canal Park in Clinton Township.
They were searching for the remains of the long-abandoned Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal, one of many canals began during the era of canal fever in the 1830s.
Their conversation included debates over the locations of several key elements of the canal, such as the locks where water once raised and lowered the canal boats and the towpath where draft animals pulled the boats along.
After their excursion, the students created signage describing the history of the canal and placing it into the context of early American industrialization.
University Liggett School is a private preschool and kindergarten through 12th grade college preparatory school in Metro Detroit that is nationally recognized for its innovative curriculum and arts and athletics offerings.