Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Heritage Education-Louisiana:Developing a Model for Teacher Training 

12-09-2015 17:35

Congress charged the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) in Natchitoches, La., with developing the Louisiana Heritage Education Initiative. In 1996 NCPTT partnered with Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation to survey state historic preservation offices regarding existing heritage education programs across the U.S. The partnership resulted in the publication Focus on 2000: A Heritage Education Perspective, outlining the results of the survey and recommendations.

Using the Focus on 2000 results and recommendations as a foundation, NCPTT turned to one of its primary partners, Northwestern State University of Louisiana (NSU) on whose campus the Center is located, for help in developing the Louisiana heritage education program. NSU, established in 1884 as Louisiana State Normal School, has a long history of providing quality education for those entering the teaching profession.

Support from Rep. Jim McCrery (R--LA) resulted in the development of Heritage Education–Louisiana (HE--LA), the pilot program for the national initiative. The goals for the program are to enhance and enrich K--12 education, instill a sense of cultural stewardship for tomorrow’s leaders, and serve as a national model. The focus is place--based, encouraging the use of local resources such as archeological sites, various types of historic structures, and cultural landscapes. One critical component was involving classroom teachers in program development to ensure a program for teachers by teachers.


Aware that a quality education program must meet the needs of educators, early in 2000 NCPTT met with supervisors for pre--K, elementary, middle, and high school curriculum standards from the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE) and the Louisiana Center for Educational Technology. DOE staff encouraged the development of the program, but cautioned that accountability and high--stakes testing were the foremost concerns for teachers and administrators; therefore, only programs that directly affected accountability and the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) would gain the attention of those educators.

Also primary to the success of the development of the program were the consultations with preservation professionals. At a forum at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, discussions were held with staff from the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, which houses the Office of the Lt. Governor, the Division of Historic Preservation, the Division of the Arts/Folklore, the Division of Archaeology, Office of State Parks, and State Museums. In addition, input from National Park Service sites in Louisiana, universities, and nonprofit groups helped to define the needs and concerns.

NCPTT also conducted research into the existing programs that address issues related to heritage education. Many excellent programs were available, but most were either site specific (Drayton Hall, a National Trust historic site) or topic specific (archeology). Conversations with classroom teachers indicated that the available programs were under--used for a number of reasons: 1) teachers were not aware that the programs existed; 2) some of the material was not curriculum--based and would require too much time for adaptation; and/or 3) teachers viewed the programs as “added” activities for which they could not spare the time. Facing these challenges, the Center turned to classroom teachers for their help in developing a quality program to meet their needs.


In 2001 HE--LA selected a group of fourth-- and eighthgrade teachers from around the state to aid in development of the program. Coming from both rural and urban schools, high and low performance schools, and schools with culturally diverse populations, the teachers brought vast knowledge and experience to the project. Because LEAP is administered in the fourth and eighth grades, any program that met curriculum needs and standardized test concerns for these teachers would be functional and easily adapted to other grades.

During the course of a year, the group of 16 teachers met in four one--day workshops and a five--day summer institute to create lesson plans and activities that they piloted in their classrooms. The first workshop outlined the tasks set before the teachers, described the timetable and events, and provided printed and online resources. Subsequent workshops addressed integrated curriculum, standards and benchmarks, creating appropriate assessments, and evaluation and recommendations.

The institute provided intense instruction, hands--on activities, resource review, and field trips. Presentations and information were provided by staff from NCPTT, NSU, the Louisiana Department of Education, the Louisiana Division of Archaeology, the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation, Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Louisiana Creole Heritage Center, the Louisiana Center for Educational Technology, and Office of State Parks. In addition, the teachers took directed field trips to Los Adaes State Commemorative Area and Cane River Creole National Historical Park.

With the field trip experiences and information provided, the teachers began creating heritage education lessons and activities that they tested in their classrooms. These lessons included such activities as exploring the history of several towns and studying the architecture of historic sites in Louisiana. One teacher used primary documents such as images, journals, maps, and newspaper articles to help students research Camp Moore and its role in the Civil War.

The 16 schools provided excellent labs for field testing the lessons and activities in a variety of settings:

  • urban and rural
  • primary, elementary, middle, and high schools
  • school populations ranging from 130 to 700
  • varied socio--economic levels as evidenced by the 28 percent to 98 percent of students qualifying for free/ reduced price lunches
  • ethnic diversity ranging from 94 percent Caucasian to 90 percent African American with some representation of Hispanic, Asian, and Native Americans.

    Classroom testing helped the teachers to hone and revise the lessons before contributing them to Heritage Education–Louisiana.

    The work accomplished during the first year of the program resulted in several recommendations from the participating teachers:

  • Create interdisciplinary lessons to involve teachers from science, math, social studies, and English language arts.
  • Use technology (computer software programs, online resources, digital cameras, etc.) as a component of each lesson, but also encourage the creation of lessons and activities that could be adapted should technology not be available.
  • Direct teachers to where information and resources can be found.
  • Develop focused workshops.
  • Provide funding for innovative activities.
  • Bearing in mind these suggestions, Heritage Education –Louisiana teamed with education methods instructors in math, science, English language arts, and social studies from NSU’s College of Education to ensure a cohesive, interdisciplinary effort. Subsequently, HE–LA facilitated mini--forums to bring preservation professionals in archeology, historic structures, and cultural landscapes together with the methods instructors. These discussions helped to translate the jargon used in both fields and clarified the preservation message that should ultimately reach the students.

    Summer Training Workshops

    In 2002 NSU instructors and HE--LA staff developed a three--day workshop entitled “Plantation Village,” a unit consisting of interdisciplinary, curriculum--based lessons and activities. Oakland Plantation at Cane River Creole National Historical Park was used as the focus for the series of four workshops held during the summer. Provided with information, activities, and field trips, the 46 participating teachers combined the material to model a simple lesson that they created based on their workshop experiences. The short presentations provided NSU and HE–LA staff with immediate evidence that specific concepts and workshop goals were met.

    The information was geared to the middle school curriculum because it was assumed that teachers in elementary and high school levels could easily adapt the material for their specific needs. It was quite clear that guidance was needed, but each teacher had to develop his or her own lesson to suit the individual’s subject specialty, grade level, and school limitations and restrictions concerning access to computers, field trips, and other factors. In addition, teachers needed to be able to adapt and create their own heritage education lessons to facilitate years of continued use if they were to change subject area, grade level, or schools or face curriculum changes.

    The first workshops were successful, judging by the evaluations and comments of the participants, but they were too site specific. Recognizing the goal of a national model, NSU and HE–LA staffs are restructuring the workshop material into a template for an agrarian unit. This new unit will aid teachers in using any plantation, farm, or ranch as the foundation for developing integrated, curriculum--based lessons and activities.

    Keeping in mind the need for a template and considering what local historic resources were likely to be available for teachers, in 2003 staff from HE–LA and NSU teamed with the Louisiana Main Street Program to develop a two--day summer workshop series entitled “A Walk Downtown.” This template provided information for creating an interdisciplinary, curriculum--based unit using a historic downtown area, neighborhood, or street as the foundation. The format again incorporated presentations, hands--on activities, and field trips and required teachers to model a simple lesson based on the experience. Thirty teachers and curriculum supervisors attended these workshops.

    For the summer 2004 workshops, HE–LA staff looked at the interest generated by and the success of NCPTT’s Cemetery Conservation seminars and workshops developed by the Materials Research Program. “Exploring the Past: A Tour of Cemeteries” follows much the same format as the previous heritage education workshops in aiding teachers to create interdisciplinary, curriculum--based lessons and activities using a local historic cemetery. Special activities have been developed to address concerns specific to this topic, including safety precautions and preservation standards such as proper care of gravestones and markers. While much of the structure of the workshop is the same—a class--like setting for presentations and hands--on activities with a trip to the local cemetery —the workshop takes place on one day only. To cover much of the material that in past years was delivered on the first day, a pre--workshop packet was sent to the participants for review.

    The No Child Left Behind legislation requiring “highly qualified” teachers in each classroom fosters the necessity for professional development opportunities for teachers. In addition, Louisiana teachers must earn Continuing Learning Units (CLUs). HE–LA workshops provide school districts with an option for providing CLUs to increase teacher knowledge and pedagogical skills


    As with all programs that are continually being refined, several challenges have come up. Chief is the difficulty in assessing the success of the program. How do we know that the education and preservation messages are getting to the students in significant ways? One option is to quantify information: How many teachers are reaching how many students who are looking at how many historic sites?

    Comparing the results of standardized tests such as the LEAP from year to year was not an option. Staff from NSU’s College of Education developed an Attitude Assessment that was used by the first 16 teachers in the initial year of the program. The assessment asked students to rate their interest in preservation issues, such as in saving old houses, in a short format used before and after heritage education lessons were taught. Because the assessment was a university product, it had to be constructed and delivered with very specific restraints and restrictions, such as a multitude of permission forms and the use of a control group. The process proved cumbersome for the implementing teacher and was in many cases implemented improperly and, thereby, proved not to be useful.

    Another concern is how to maintain contact with participants. Once teachers leave the workshops, no formalized plan is in place to continue the dialogue or to determine if they continue to use the material and activities to develop their own lessons. While the Heritage Education–Louisiana website is one source of updated information, it is difficult to know how often it is visited by past participants. Developing and distributing an electronic newsletter has provided one way to reach out to those who have participated in HE–LA programs.

    Continuing Toward Our Goal

    Making sure that workshops meet teacher requirements, offering them in a format that is beneficial, continuing to use education and preservation professionals to develop and deliver the material are all strategies that should engender continued success. Thus far, teachers from school districts in three--fourths of the parishes have participated in HE–LA in some way. Providing these professional development opportunities for inservice teachers is one way of accomplishing the goals of the Heritage Education–Louisiana program.

    The next logical step in expanding the program is reaching out to pre--service teachers (those students who are in university education degree programs), so that the idea of heritage education is embedded in their teaching philosophies. One project with Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation is a survey of the state of heritage education in colleges and departments of education around the nation. The information will guide subsequent development of this program as a national model. In the meantime, work has begun with staff from NSU’s College of Education and School of Social Science for developing a heritage education course with anticipated implementation in the 2005 fall semester.

    With these steps, we will continue toward the goal “to instill a sense of stewardship for America’s cultural resources in the nation’s grade, middle, and high school--age students” so that “generations of children aware of the significance of their cultural resources grow into responsible adults who seek to conserve them.”

    Publication Date: Fall 2004



Author(s):Sheila Richmond