UTRGV partners with local districts on history education

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EDINBURG — The U.S. Department of Education awarded the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley B3 Institute about $2 million to improve local history instruction Tuesday morning at the Museum of South Texas History.

UTRGV will collaborate with the Edinburg and Brownsville school districts for Historias Americanas, a “place-based” development program to gear educators toward teaching social studies courses, according to a news release. Improving teaching approaches toward history, geography and other subjects are potential outcomes of the collaboration.

Maritza De La Trinidad

Associate professor Maritza De La Trinidad said the emphasis on the “place-based” approach refers to involving the region to teach students about the past.

“Using the environment as a classroom, so place-based becomes a way to use the community or locations in a community, whether it be here in the Rio Grande Valley, or in the Midwest, or in Arizona or Mexico, they can use place-based to teach the history and the culture of the region, of their region,” De La Trinidad said.

Context is important and a “place-based” concept allows the “relevancy to thrive,” she added. Scholarship has backed this approach and the teacher training will incorporate this approach.

UTRGV B3 Institute executive director Francisco Guajardo facilitated transitions between speakers with head administrators and teachers from the two school districts during the press conference.

If the budget allows for it, money may go toward paying for travel expenses, so teachers could spread their work and “evangelize” the importance of history education within the region, Guajardo said.

“In secondary ways, we’re hoping that this will also inspire other school districts to think about how they can see themselves in the curriculum,” he said.

Developing self-reflection could inspire and build a connection to the past and social sciences.

The professional development will include the “theory of change,” by delving into a personal component with self-reflection and involving the community, he said.

“We want all our teachers to see history as a very personal enterprise,” he said.

The digital archives and materials created with teachers will be available throughout the region, state and at a national level, De La Trinidad said.

Edinburg schools superintendent René Gutiérrez said “history defines our culture” and is a way for students in the Rio Grande Valley to understand a connection to “not only to Texas but also to the nation and to the world.”

An educator from the district also relayed his view on the development program.

History teacher Juan Ortega is in his 10th year in curriculum writing for the district and said the program would allow additional input in resources.

“Because we’re the ones that are making them, we’re going to be the ones to offer the answers and to be able to expand on the knowledge that they may have on the Valley,” Ortega said during the conference.