Assistant Professor of American Studies Elizabeth Belanger has received a grant from the American Studies Association (ASA) to support her “People’s History of Geneva K-12 Curriculum Project.” The grant will allow Belanger and her colleagues to enrich and expand a summer workshop for teachers and community members that focuses on lesser-known aspects of Geneva’s history. The project is a collaboration between HWS, the Geneva City School District (GCSD) and the Geneva Historical Society.
There were many sources of inspiration for the project, says Belanger. “It originally emerged out of conversations with my collaborators, Karen Fahy [director of humanities for GCSD] and Anne Dealey [director of education and public information for the Historical Society]. We all firmly believe in the power of history to shape civic life. We thought uncovering community stories was important both because of the rich history in the area – a history many know little about – and because of the changing demographics of the schools. We wanted to create a curriculum where every student in the city could see someone like themselves be an agent of historical change.”
Those initial discussions led to a workshop last summer for local teachers and community members. “The participants spent the day exploring how issues of power and privilege shape the K-12 history curriculum, the role history plays in the civic identity and emotional well-being of students of color, and the often unknown stories of local community activists,” wrote Belanger in her application for the ASA grant.
In spring 2017, Belanger took the collaboration a step further, connecting students from her “Art, Memory and the Power of Place” seminar with the students of Geneva Middle School teacher Mary Wagner to explore the 1970-1974 Martin Luther King Day school boycotts by African-American students. “By making connections to past civil rights activism in their community, students gain skills necessary for understanding and contributing to contemporary social justice battles in the community including educational opportunities, fair housing and food deserts.”
Ben Greiner ’18, an American studies major with an entrepreneurial studies minor, was one of the HWS students who worked with the city school children. “The value of the project came from my new awareness and perspective on the history of Geneva as well as the process in which kids learn about their local history,” he says. “The kids I worked with started to question how they could learn from the past and impact the future positively.”
The $3,000 ASA grant will allow the collaborative experiences to continue. Belanger is working with fourth and fifth grade students at North Street School to refine the curriculum. She is also developing a high school unit to further broaden the experiences and knowledge of both HWS students and the children of Geneva.