An American history-focused school

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Students at four Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) will have the opportunity to improve their academic performance and college preparedness through a unique academic enrichment program based on American history. Funded by a $975,000, five-year grant from the Cargill Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History program aims to accelerate learning for participating students.

According to the executive director of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the program leverages the story-laden appeal of American history to help captivate, galvanize and reinforce student interest in reading, writing, research, analysis, public speaking and advanced technology skills.

“This program brings to life American history’s notable and colorful figures, great achievements and grand dramas in ways that excite and encourage students to learn,” said Lesley S. Herrmann, executive director of the Gilder Lehrman Institute. “By examining the evidence and conflicting interpretations of American history, students develop the critical thinking skills so necessary for success in school and in life.”

The Minneapolis schools participating in the Gilder Lehrman program include Washburn and Edison high schools and Northeast and Susan B. Anthony middle schools. The program will be presented through MPS’ Small Learning Community (SLC) format, in which a teacher and group of students focus on a particular subject. Approximately 1,150 MPS students are expected to participate in the program’s first academic year in 2007-08.

The Cargill Foundation is funding the new Gilder Lehrman program based on the success of a 2002-2005 Gilder Lehrman pilot program at Washburn High School. Participating Washburn students achieved the school’s highest attendance rate and were most likely to graduate on time among any SLC at the school.

Independent research by Arete Consulting supports the effectiveness of the Gilder Lehrman program, particularly at schools with a high performance disparity between white and African American students. For example, students at a New York City junior high school tripled their standardized reading skills after a year in the program, and participating seniors at a New York City high school achieved a 100-percent graduation rate compared with 67 percent for the rest of the school.

“Based on its demonstrated performance, we’re convinced the Gilder Lehrman program will help improve student opportunity for academic success,” said Mark Murphy, executive director of the Cargill Foundation. “We believe that this approach may also help develop pools of successful students who can serve as community role models.”

According to MPS Superintendent Dr. William D. Green: “We are grateful to our friends at the Cargill Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute in helping us bridge the achievement gap in our schools. A strong understanding of American history not only provides students with valuable knowledge of our nation but also provides a meaningful context that students can apply to other areas of learning.”

The Cargill grant will also fund the attendance of MPS teachers at the Gilder Lehrman Institute’s summer seminars, which offer teachers the chance to study American history with scholars from such schools as Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Oxford and Cambridge. Attendees are selected by competitive application.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute has a network of 41 history-focused schools in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

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