SANBORN – Forty teachers from all over the country will gather today at Niagara County Community College for a weeklong workshop on the history of the Erie Canal.
During the week of Aug. 4, the workshop will be repeated for another 40 teachers, according to the director, Medina High School history teacher Pierson Bell.
Bell said he had taught a political science elective at NCCC, and the college asked him to help it apply for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the workshop.
Megan Stadler, grants director at NCCC, said the college received a $175,122 grant for the project. “It’s unusual for any community college to be awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities,” she said.
Stadler said NCCC was the only community college in the nation to receive an NEH grant last year. The application was sent in March 2012 and awarded last summer.
Bell said 156 teachers from grades kindergarten through 12 applied for the workshop. Those chosen will be paid a $1,200 stipend to attend, from which their food, lodging and books are to be covered.
The college opened up its on-campus housing, and about half of the visiting teachers will stay there for $45 a night, which also comes out of their stipends. The group will eat at various off-campus restaurants.
Teachers will be coming from as far away as California and Florida, with several from the Midwest and the Deep South, as well as New Yorkers, Bell said.
“About one-fourth of them are descended from people in Western New York, so they’re staying with family,” Bell said.
The workshop is called “Clinton’s Ditch: The Erie Canal in Western New York.” Bell said it’s a professional development opportunity for the teachers.
The program includes lectures by authorities on canal history and field trips to historic sites.
“I’m responsible for the intellectual framework of the workshop,” said Bell, who has taught history for six years, first at Royalton-Hartland and then at Medina.
The workshop begins after dinner tonight with a talk on Erie Canal folklore by Douglas Farley, former director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center in Lockport.
Farley, who left the Discovery Center last week to join the Museum of Disability in Buffalo, is also to present a guided tour of the Lockport locks for the teachers Monday evening.
The group will hear two lectures Monday morning.
Lorrei DiCamillo, education professor at Canisius College, will discuss how to teach canal history on the elementary and high school levels, while Tamara Thornton of the University at Buffalo will lecture on the politics of the early 19th century that led to Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s decision to build the canal.
On Tuesday, the teachers will take a bus trip to Syracuse for a tour of the Canal Museum there and two lectures, before heading to Camillus for a walk on the towpath to a restored aqueduct.
Wednesday, after another historical lecture by Thornton, the teachers will hear a performance of canal music before heading back to Lockport for a ride through the locks on one of the boats of Lockport Locks and Erie Canal Cruises.
Thursday, the bus heads to Rochester for a presentation on canal-related art by curators of the University of Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery. Back in Sanborn, the group will hear a lecture on the canal’s economic impact.
Friday, the group heads to Buffalo for a tour of Erie Canal Harbor and other city sites, led by docents from the Buffalo Niagara Preservation Society.
The workshop ends Saturday with the teachers presenting the document-based projects they worked on through the week, followed by a late-afternoon trip to Niagara Falls State Park and a farewell dinner in NCCC’s Culinary Institute.
“We certainly have many opportunities for professional development, but a lot of those opportunities focus on teaching methodology. They don’t focus on content,” Bell said.
The teachers will be students for the week and will be learning and swapping ideas and insights during non-classroom time, Bell said.
“It’s something that in public education doesn’t happen too often,” Bell said. “That’s the best form of professional development.”