6 Pattison Elementary teachers visit Jamestown

Betty L. Martin
Houston Chronicle

Six Pattison Elementary social studies teachers backtracked in time to what’s known as “America’s Historic Triangle” of English settlement on U.S. shores – Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Va.

They essentially went on a shopping trip for artifact replicas they will share in their classrooms – and, ultimately, with the Katy Independent School District’s social studies teachers – to enliven lessons about the culture and daily lives of early Anglo residents.

Traveling Teachers: Social studies teachers from Pattison Elementary visited Jamestown this month. From left are Jill Hortness, 45; Laura Sanders, 37; Whitney LaRocca, 29; Regina Thompson, 42; and Pennylane Lara, 35.

The tab for their airfare, lodging and other expenses was picked up by Fund For Teachers, a Houston-based nonprofit group that provides grants to help enrich the curriculum of teachers throughout the United States.

That the “Team Jamestown” group’s trip came as the Jamestown Settlement is celebrating its 400th anniversary was a bonus for Katy teachers whose job is to impart that period’s events to Pattison’s fifth-graders: Beth Emerson, Jill Hortness, Pennylane Lara, Whitney LaRocca, Laura Sanders and Regina Thompson.

“The history of Jamestown as an early American settlement is an important part of the curriculum, and it builds a foundation of history throughout the students’ life,” said Lara, 35, who has taught social studies for seven years at Pattison.

Lara, who has been a teacher for 12 years, said she and other teachers applied for the $7,500 in total grants from the Fund for Teachers, which awarded the grants to only 10 percent of applicants, or about 110 grants in Houston alone.

Sanders said the idea is to create a “learning kit” where pupils will have a more hands-on experience with history.

“We want to purchase the toys and clothing from that era,” said Sanders, 37, a four-year teacher of social studies, math and science at Pattison, who has 14 years’ teaching experience. While the grant covered airfare, hotel, food, transportation and tickets for the Jamestown Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg and historic Yorktown, it didn’t pay for the replicas the teachers want to put into their shared history trunks.

LaRocca said the group was especially lucky that they were in Jamestown during an archaeological dig near the settlement’s learning center, and even luckier that the Katy community also donated funds to help buy the replicas they need for the trunk kits.

“We’ll have three kits, total, and each kit will have the same artifacts – irons, coins, jewelry, pipes, water jugs, clothing, tools and money from that period,” said LaRocca, 29, who has taught social studies and language arts at Pattison for all of her eight-year career.

In addition, the teachers attended events commemorating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding in 1607.

Jill Hortness, 45, who has spent the last three years at Pattison teaching social studies and language arts out of her 20-year career, said that each kit – with an estimated value of $500 – will include computer-programmed photos and videos as well as artifact replicas.

“We’ll incorporate photos we’ll take to make the students feel as if they’re there,” Hortness said. “We’ll make them feel like history comes alive while they actually touch the artifacts and put on the clothing of days when they didn’t have electronics.”

LaRocca said that without visuals, it’s not easy – even for adults – to comprehend how life was like without the technologies people depend upon today.

“I hope it will be imprinted on them how many advantages they have today,” LaRocca said.

Ideas the teachers plan to use in their lesson plans include asking pupils to write a letter from Jamestown as if they were residents of that settlement, explaining aspects of their daily lives, or identifying unseen artifacts inside a bag by touch and describing how each one is used.

“I think that will help them experience what it was like in those days,” Lara said. “We’re hoping this will spark an interest when they go on to study American history in general.”

Another central goal, Lara said, is to eventually be able to make the kits available to other social studies teachers, complete with lesson plans and photos using the school district’s automated computer network for shared lesson plans.

For information about Fund for Teachers, visit the group’s Web site at: www.fundforteachers.org, or call 713-296-6127.