I grew up in a family where history was always prevalent. My dad, who was an officer in the Army, regaled me with stories of epic showdowns between Erwin Rommel and George Patton in World War II. And he always warned me never to invade Russia (see Napoleon and Hitler). He loved talking about the brilliance of the Royal Air Force in the Battle for Britain. Growing up in a military family with constant relocations can be difficult. Still, even while in middle school, we always gleaned the history of a place, whether it be in Germany and traveling Europe, or stopping at every single Civil War battlefield while exploring the States. My passion for history was born from not only through my father's love of it but also with his drive to take me to these historical places and show me history in action.
Last year, 2019, was the 75th Anniversary of the 1944 Allied D-Day invasion of Europe. With my background and love of history, I knew that I wanted to try to arrange a school trip for students to see and experience the D-Day beaches and WWII sites in Europe during this anniversary year. I understood this was going to be a daunting task. Not only was I concerned that the administration may not let me do it, but would students be interested? This trip would not be the typical DCDS excursions, yet I knew that if I could help even one student understand the sacrifice of the D-Day invasion, my goal would be achieved.
Fast forward six months later, and not only did I have many students interested, but I also designed a summer term WWII experiential class to enhance the European trip. Before leaving for Europe, the students spent time learning about all the sites that we were going to explore. As I had hoped, the most impactful place that we visited was the Normandy beaches. We visited Gold Beach and saw vital pieces of history that are still present today when looking out into the English Channel. We stood at the top of Pointe du Hoc, the most significant German stronghold of the five beaches, and students looked down on the still perfectly preserved embankment to realize the difficulty of the 2nd Ranger Battalion had in scaling it. Lastly, we went to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, where the soldiers who died at the Battle of Normandy are buried. While gazing out at all the perfectly straight-lined graves, one of my students looked at me and said, "I didn't know that it would be like this. There are a lot of graves out there." That particular student found a soldier who died on the beaches from Michigan and did a research project on him, where he found out that he was awarded a Silver Star for bravery. My goal to build empathy and a realization of the cost had been accomplished.
Experiencing history is one of the tools that I try to use in my classroom, bringing in artifacts and showing students primary sources from the period we are studying. Students in the 8th grade learn about the American Revolution, and then we take a class trip to Boston, where they experience the sites of the American Revolution first-hand. Yes, history can be tedious, but it is my goal to show students that experiencing and learning from history is essential in creating a positive future for them.