Niagara Gazette

July 20, 2013

National Erie Canal workshop hosted by NCCC is a lesson for grade school teachers

By Joyce M. Miles joyce.miles@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Grade school teachers from across the country will be attending Niagara County Community College this week for a workshop titled “Clinton’s Ditch: The Erie Canal in Western New York.”

The Landmarks of American History workshop is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which awards grants to museums, colleges and universities to help teachers refine their approaches to instructing students about American history and culture.

The workshop has 40 K-through-12th grade instructors learning about the canal, its construction, economic, social and cultural impacts on the United States through lectures and daily field trips to Syracuse, Camillus, Pittsford, Rochester, Buffalo and Lockport. According to the workshop schedule, N.E.H. “summer scholars” will spend two half-days, Monday afternoon and Wednesday evening, in the Lock City, taking in tours of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, Locks 34 and 35 and a canal cruise.

The workshop will be repeated the week of Aug. 4 for another 40 teachers.

NCCC is the only community college in the nation that received a Landmarks grant this year, according to Megan Stadler, director of the school’s grants office. The grant is worth upward of $100,000, as N.E.H. is paying stipends of $1,200 per summer scholar to cover classroom and field trip costs, food and lodging. About half of the scholars are staying in campus housing.

“It’s really cool that we’re able to do this,” she said. “Anytime the college can be on a national stage, that’s a good thing.”

The college landed the grant with help from Pierson Bell, a high school history teacher who’s just been hired by the Medina Central School District after teaching the past six years at Royalton-Hartland Central. At Roy-Hart, Bell taught an accelerated political science elective, accredited by NCCC, and last year Stadler recruited him to help write the Landmarks grant application.

The Clinton’s Ditch workshop is designed to show scholars how the Erie Canal propelled advancements in transportation, communication and engineering that, altogether, transformed the U.S. from a set of distinct regions to a unified, industrial nation.

Guest lecturers including Tamara Thornton, professor of history at the University of Buffalo, will suggest that the Erie Canal’s linking of east and west sparked the first industrial revolution in the 1830s and, in the process, discouraged the spread of slavery to newer states in the union. In a separate lecture she’ll suggest how the “artificial river” propelled capitalist culture in 19th century America.

SUNY Distinguished Service Professor F. Daniel Larkin is coming from SUNY Oneonta to lecture on “New York’s Gift To The Nation.” Also from Oneonta, Roger Hecht, assistant professor of literature, will meet up with the scholars in Syracuse, where they’re touring the Erie Canal Museum on Tuesday, to talk with them about the canal in 19th century art and literature. Museum curator Daniel Ward will delve into the Irish experience on the canal.

Throughout the week, non-fiction writers Gerard Koeppel, Martha Kendall and Doug Farley, director of the Erie Canal Discovery Center, will make presentations on canal construction, music and folklore. Canal-inspired art and architecture are covered in field trips to Rochester and Buffalo. Approaches to teaching the subject matter to elementary and secondary students will be suggested by Lorrei DiCamillo, associate professor of education at Canisius College.

Each day, time is set aside for teacher-scholars to work in pairs on “document” development, that is, creation of a teaching resource/plan that they can use in their classes in 2013-14.

On Saturday, the last day of the workshop, scholars will be treated to a visit to Niagara Falls State Park and an “Erie Canal meal” at the NCCC-run Niagara Falls Culinary Institute.

Eighty summer scholars were selected from a field of 156 applicants for spots in the workshop.