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Making a Difference: Partnering to Improve History Teaching in East Tennessee

The Mission

Started in 2003, this collaboration between history department faculty at the University of Tennessee and public school teachers and administrators in rural, under-resourced counties in the East Tennessee region provides content enrichment for the teaching of history. Through class visits, teaching workshops, field trips, and collaboration on National History Day, UT faculty provides content enrichment for history teachers, along with shared, mutually beneficial discussions for methods of teaching.

The Partners

Community partners include the East Tennessee Historical Society, regional school districts and schools. University of Tennessee partners include the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History.

Impact on UT

ETHS provides program staff support and financial administration, which allows history professors to work with teachers on content knowledge and the development of curriculum. Improved teaching of history in East Tennessee’s rural schools produces more high school graduates ready to succeed at the college level, and the partnership encourages area teachers to see UT faculty as a resource for collaborative education. Shared program design and implementation helps UT faculty learn how better to serve students coming to UT from schools located in areas with very low post-secondary education rates.

Impact on Community

Ongoing assessment has confirmed improved scores on standardized history tests for both teachers and their students who participate in the program. Approximately 200 local school teachers have participated in each of the past three years: Year One saw 189 teachers participate; Year Two attracted 133 teachers and 99 pre-service teachers and year-three brought in 108 teachers (through April, 2014).

Current programs include: National History Day-an event where several hundred students come to the UT campus to present their research projects, with each year centered on a different history theme that the projects are developed around. UT provides physical space for the event and dozen current and emeritus faculty and many graduate students volunteer as judges during the competition. History Day staff are  called on to mentor students as they are preparing their projects. The Annual History Teacher Workshop is an ongoing program of 35 years. It brings 60 teachers to the East Tennessee Historical Society, where they hear lectures from faculty members on a range of relevant history topics. It is a way for them to keep up with the latest scholarship that should inform their own teaching. UT Bridge to AP U.S. History, a new program organized by Pat Rutenberg, works with the AP U.S. History teachers in three underserved Knox County Schools. Professors go into the classroom several times per semester to work directly with students. The ETHS brings the students to UT for a day to attend a sample college history class, take a tour of campus, including a visit to the McClung Museum, and meet with admissions counselors. After spending the day experiencing college life, particularly a day in the life of a history major, AP U.S. History students see college as a more attainable goal.

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Photo Album:  National History Day


UTK History Department

Teaching Tennessee History


UT Department of History, 865-974-5421

The East Tennessee Historical Society
Program Director Lisa Oakley at

Click here to read about more Partnerships that Make a Difference.