BSU professors lead high school teachers on tour of Boston

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Bemidji State University Professor of History Dr. Elizabeth Dunn and Associate Professor of History Tom Murphy recently led a contingent of 50 northern Minnesota high school teachers on an educational tour of Boston, Mass. The tour, funded by a “Teaching American History” grant from the U.S. Department of Education, was the capstone trip of a four-year teacher education partnership between Bemidji State University and the Northwest Service Cooperative, based in Thief River Falls, Minn.

The grant program is designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge and understanding of and appreciation for traditional U.S. history. Grant awards will assist local education agencies, in partnership with entities that have content expertise, to develop, document, evaluate and disseminate innovative and cohesive models of professional development. By helping teachers to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of U.S. history as a separate subject matter within the core curriculum, these programs will improve instruction and raise student achievement.

The Northwest Service Cooperative, under the guidance of U.S. History Grant Coordinator Faye Auchenpaugh, and Bemidji State have been working together to aide in the professional development of northern Minnesota history teachers under the Department of Education grant since 2004. This summer’s trip marked the conclusion of the first four-year grant period, and the partners will be starting a new four-year teacher education cycle under a new grant this fall.

“The relationship with Bemidji State professors has been wonderful,” Auchenpaugh said. “The University was uneasy about participating in the beginning, but after the first year all professors who have been able to participate were willing to do it. Everyone sees the tremendous value that an educational connection between secondary schools and the University has for these teachers.”

Fifty-six people participated in the trip to Boston, including 50 high school teachers from across northern Minnesota, representing each of the 12 counties serviced by the Northwest Service Cooperative, five professors and trip leaders and Auchenpaugh.

“This program seemed like a great opportunity to talk with other teachers in the area about curriculum and methods, and it was unique to be able to also talk to college professors at the same time,” said Mike Cool, a history teacher from Park Rapids, Minn. who participated in the program. “The Boston trip will give us a touchstone experience to share with our kids. They can talk to an eyewitness of the things they see in pictures and in books, and have that personal connection to the subject matter.”

“The teachers were great ambassadors for their schools, and the whole group were wonderful ambassadors for the state of Minnesota,” Dunn said. “The trip was about giving these teachers an opportunity to have hands-on experience with some of our nation’s history, and it ended up becoming a sort of cultural exchange between northern Minnesota and Boston.”

The value of the trip and the learning experience could extend beyond the history classroom for the teachers who participated. In several cases, the experience of the history teachers has led to an alignment of curricula with literature teachers – now, both are teaching materials from the same era simultaneously in order to give a more complete picture of the time period being studied.

“I didn’t see the value, or maybe didn’t understand, the literature portion that works so well with history,” said Aaron Nelson, from Roseau, Minn. “This workshop has opened up a whole new world in terms of that relationship. They say that history will give you the sequence of events, but if you want to know how people felt about those events, read the literature. That gives you the sense of what people got out of the things they experienced beyond just a sequence of events.”

“This program has spoiled me for every other workshop,” said Kristin Willberg from Fosston, Minn. “They’re boring, and you don’t get the same kinds of materials. We’ve been a group for four years now, and the discussions we’ve had have given us all a comfort level and a connection with each other that is really invaluable.”

About the Northwest Service Cooperative
The Northwest Service Cooperatives serves school districts, cities, counties and other governmental agencies in 12 counties, covering a total of 14,853 square miles in Minnesota State Development Regions One and Two. One of nine Service Cooperatives in the State of Minnesota, it is governed by a Board of Directors consisting of school board members elected at large by their peers, two representatives from the C/C/OGA Advisory Committee, with a maximum of three at-large appointees and three ex-officio superintendents.

An array of services are offered to carry out the mission of the Northwest Service Cooperative.

For more information on the Cooperative, visit it at