By the Park Parent Editorial Board
Applying against the odds is an experience that Park parents know, so we should be able to empathize with the 6,000 educators who vie for National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer programs each year. The NEH is charged with spreading and strengthening the appreciation of “the diversity of excellence that comprises our cultural heritage,” according to the 1965 act of Congress which established it. To fulfill that mission, each year NEH offers America’s best educators the opportunity to participate in their summer seminars, institutes, and workshops. Last summer, two members of the Park faculty conquered the odds and joined the honored few.
Participants are selected from among the piles of applicants based on demonstrated excellence as educators and assurances that what they learn will impact what they teach. So, it is easy to see why Upper Division Social Studies teacher Nancy Barre was selected to participate in a workshop on the Reform Era in Rochester, NY. Nancy is A.B.D. (All But Dissertation) in history at the University of Rochester, so she was already familiar with how the construction of the Erie Canal encouraged Reform Era allies such as suffragette Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass to adopt Rochester as their base of operations. But what Nancy learned in Rochester last summer will inform how she teaches the new Grade VIII social studies curriculum she is shaping. “I knew that Douglass was a super-star of the Abolitionist Movement,” she said, “but what I learned from the workshop will help me convey why he founded The North Star where he did and how broader changes spurred the movement he led.”
Despite the fact that first-time participants are favored in the NEH’s selection process, Scott Sandvik was chosen for a second workshop last summer. The NEH requires that all applicants demonstrate related intellectual interests in workshop subjects. It is clear that Scott, a composer, performing professional guitarist, and published academic, surpassed that hurdle. In 2015, Scott participated in a program about the Mississippi Delta and its rippling effects on American culture—a topic which he once taught a course about at the New England Conservatory. And this past summer he studied how the Gullah, the descendants of those enslaved in the Lowlands of the American South, seeded the development of African-American musical culture. In both these workshops, Scott was able to take a deeper dive into areas where he had already delved and bring back what he learned to The Park School. For instance, the seventh grade studies the techniques and history of the Mississippi Delta Blues, thanks to Scott’s deep knowledge.
NEH’s selection of Scott Sandvik and Nancy Barre highlights that Park faculty members are not just instructors, but also scholars who are often experts in their subject areas. Both educators emerged from their summer workshops most excited about how their experiences would revitalize their teaching. As Nancy tells it, “trading thoughts with educators from all over the country really gets you jazzed about what we are doing and how we do things.”