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In an effort to give back to the community, students presented final projects of how to teach with primary sources from local historical sites

Photo courtesy of: Patton College of Education

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Award-winning history teacher, Paul LaRue of Washington Court House, met with students and shared ideas for how to incorporate the teaching of local history as a form of civic engagement

Photo courtesy of: Patton College of Education

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Service learning project at Emancipation Day in Rendville, Ohhio. Students worked digitizing primary sources that were contributed by community members in an effort to preserve the history of Rendville

Photo courtesy of: Patton College of Education

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Civic engagement through service learning and local history with social studies teacher candidates


Aside from field placements in local schools, teacher candidates live in the “Athens Bubble” and tend to know little about the region, the historical and cultural heritage of local communities, and the lived experiences of the students they teach.

Preparing teachers who are attuned to the communities they serve is a goal in teacher education and can be accomplished through service learning and community-based research.

This fall, The Patton College of Education’s teacher candidates in Professor Michael Kopish’s AYA social studies methods course participated in a series of multidimensional educational experiences for students to engage with the community as leaners and leaders.

To accomplish this goal, the Little Cities of Black Diamonds served as a community classroom to help advance teacher candidates’ working knowledge of cultural backgrounds, personal identities, and local contexts of Appalachia Ohio. Throughout the semester teacher candidates were involved in several experiential education opportunities in local communities to learn about the region.  

Community-Based Research. Teacher candidates travelled to a regional historical marker in Rendville, Ohio, and local historical societies in Shawnee and New Straitsville, Ohio. At the historical societies, students worked with local community members to explore historical archives and develop original research projects to learn about the rich history of the region.

This type of research engaged students with community experts, offered opportunities for students to explore local archives, and provided necessary background knowledge for future curricular development.

Service Learning. Students were also involved in two service-learning projects in September and October.

The first service-learning project occurred during the Emancipation Day celebration in Rendville, Ohio. At the event, students learned about the rich African-American history of the town first hand by collecting oral histories and helping community members digitize historical artifacts and primary sources. Among the hidden gems discovered by students was a letter from W.E.B. Dubois to a Rendville, Ohio, community member at the turn of the last century.

The second service-learning project involved teacher candidates in Little Cities Day in Shawnee, Ohio.

This project allowed students to work with members of AmeriCorps and engage with community members on a civic action project to promote historical preservation and restoration of the Tecumseh Theater, a once prominent opera house in Southeast Ohio.

Learning from an Expert Teacher. In a time period where our candidates are witnessing pressures to cover standards and teach to tests, it is also critical for candidates to gain experience with alternative pedagogies that engage students and learn from successful teachers. In late October, teacher candidates hosted Paul LaRue, an award-winning teacher from Washington Court House, who is nationally known for community/local history projects (i.e., oral histories of WWII vets) and civic action projects (i.e., Ohio Statuary Project).

From this experience, students gained additional confidence and expressed feeling empowered to enact experiential learning projects in communities with future students. In fact, several teacher candidates are designing local history projects to enact during their full-time internships in the spring.

Giving Back. Finally, our work with several communities in the Little Cities of Black Diamonds region made teacher candidates’ growth as learners and leaders possible. These experiences were powerful and opened students’ eyes to the new possibilities for the classroom.

For the final course project, students designed curriculum with resources from local historical societies and presented their projects to members of the New Straitsville History Group. As a result of this project, local historical societies were provided with ready-to-use curriculum to share with classroom teachers and promote the use of local archives to teach social studies.  

Community-based research and service learning are powerful pedagogies that foster collaboration between Ohio University and local communities. In all, the set of experiences was rewarding for teacher candidates and challenged previously held assumptions about teaching history and civics.

These experiences provided important opportunities for teacher candidates to engage with and contribute to communities in meaningful ways. Candidates learned both classroom and community-based methods for teaching and new ways to foster student engagement and promote the democratic aims of education.