PITTSBURG — Two Pittsburg Community Middle School teachers were reminded of what it was like to be a student.

Through a few grants, PCMS teachers Angela Lewis and Lynette Wescott took a tour back in time through the Belfer National Conference for Education and the Freedom Foundations at Valley Forge. They also participated in the Korean War Digital History Project.

Lewis and Wescott traveled for seven days from Atlanta to Little Rock with 50 other teachers to study civil rights and for three days the teachers visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  

“It’s all about being a lifelong learner and modeling new learning for your students,” Wescott,  sixth grade social studies teacher, said. “Growing up in southeast Kansas and then living here my entire life, your lens and experiences can be small.

“Doing these grants have allowed us to expand these lenses through experience and knowledge.”

The tours offered more than a reminder of times passed, Wescott and Lewis said they were able to discuss with the other teachers about teaching strategies, ways to engage students and what other school districts are doing, from school budgets to state assessments.

The teachers said the tours gave them an experience which they would have never had unless they were present at the museums. They said these will be implemented into their classrooms.

For instance, through a simulation at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, they were taken to Greensboro, North Carolina where they “experienced” a sit-in at a Woolworth’s retail store counter, which Lewis said felt “very real” and was a memorable moment.

“The sit-in was for 45 seconds,” Lewis said. “We would put our hands on the counter and the headphones on and you can hear people screaming at you like the participants would have heard.

“Our chairs would start to shake as if people were shaking your chair. You can remove your hands and headphones if you couldn't take it any longer.”

“And you can take a tissue in the end,” Wescott added.

At the time, the store had a “whites only” lunch counter and four college-aged African American students, now known as the Greensboro Four, decided to “sit themselves at the ‘forbidden lunch counter’ … they [the store] refused service. But the students came back, and each time they came back more people joined them,” Wescott said.  

“The whole idea spread across the nation and other places had sit-ins.

“They were attacked verbally and physically and over time the Woolworth’s company said everyone can sit where they want.”

The museum also has exhibits on “modern-day” topics and other issues based on religion, gender and other happenings around the world.

Lewis, an eighth grade language arts teacher, said the stories from the tours will help her prepare when discussing literature written by these historical figures.

“We read a lot of short stories from our literature book,” Lewis said. “I think it’s important to have all the background knowledge available to teach the students before we engage in the story.”

In addition to their core classes, students take an intervention class where they can receive enrichment material to work on.

“We can use the information [from the tours and conferences] to extend their knowledge on these topics,” Wescott said.

Wescott said they also were taught different teaching styles from presenters, such a Vietnam War Medal of Honor Recipient Melvin Morris, who was at first denied his medal until 45 years later. They also met a Holocaust survivor.

The teachers said the tours and conferences opened their eyes to the world around them.

“Over and over, I think, how did I get to be this age and not know about all of this?” Wescott said. “How do these historical turning points in our history connect to what current events are happening now?”

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.