“American Mind” project to link area teachers, Library of Congress in Washington

CULLOWHEE — The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., will be just a mouse click away for teachers participating in “An Adventure of the American Mind,” a federally funded project being administered in North Carolina’s seven westernmost counties through Western Carolina University’s College of Education and Allied Professions.

U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor secured $5.7 million in federal funding in 1999 to bring the multi-year pilot project to Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. Involving teachers at public, private and charter schools across WNC, plus other teachers from schools in South Carolina, the “American Mind” project is being administered through the education departments at Western Carolina University, Montreat College, Mars Hill College, Brevard College and Furman University.

Through the WCU phase of the project, 40 primary and secondary school teachers from 20 schools in the counties of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain will be provided a laptop computer and free Internet access from their homes and classrooms.

“Teachers will be trained in using the computers to access the digitized records of the Library of Congress, and in applying those skills and resources in their classroom teaching,” said Beth Rodgers Leftwich, project coordinator at WCU. The Library of Congress currently has online more than 1 million of its 6 million digitized historical sources, including documents, films, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings.

“Although the training will be directed at helping the teachers utilize the Library of Congress’ online resources, the ultimate aim of the project is to provide teachers with the technological tools and skills they need to integrate technology into the teaching and learning process,” Leftwich said.

School superintendents, principals and technology directors from the seven counties in WCU’s project service area met with WCU’s project staff on Monday, Dec. 4, to learn about the “Adventure of the American Mind.” Principals from the 20 schools involved will choose two teachers from their respective staffs to participate in the program.

Michael Dougherty, dean of WCU’s College of Education and Allied Professions, told the school representatives that the WCU community is excited to be involved in the project, which “fits in very well with Western Carolina University’s efforts to incorporate the tools of technology in the teaching and learning process.” The project is expected to serve as a national model.

In addition to being provided a free laptop computer and Internet access, the teachers will enroll in a free graduate course in beginning and advanced multimedia skills to be taught next summer at WCU, and they will have an opportunity to attend a weeklong summer institute at the Library of Congress. Follow-up training also will be provided, said Bob Houghton, an associate professor at WCU who will be the instructor for the graduate course.

Tyler Blethen, director of WCU’s Mountain Heritage Center and a consultant for the graduate course, said the project staff at WCU will work to help teachers and their students supplement digitized Library of Congress collections by developing themes and collecting materials that are of regional and local interest.

“An example of this is the impact of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the lives of the people of Western North Carolina. The Mountain Heritage Center staff will be collaborating with us on that project,” Blethen said.

Two teachers from each of these participating schools will be selected for the project:

– Cherokee County: Hiwassee Dam and Murphy High schools.
– Clay County: Hayesville Middle and Hayesville High schools.
– Graham County: Robbinsville Middle and Robbinsville High schools.
– Haywood County: Hazelwood Elementary, Jonathan Valley Elementary, Junaluska Elementary and Waynesville Middle schools.
– Jackson County: Cherokee Elementary, Cherokee High, Smokey Mountain Elementary, Smoky Mountain High and Victory Christian schools.
– Macon County: Franklin High, Nantahala and Trimont Christian schools.
– Swain County: Swain County East Elementary and Swain County High schools.

In addition to Leftwich, other project staff members at WCU are Christopher Akers, instructional technology consultant, and Michele Glover, project assistant.

WCU teacher education students and other Western faculty members also will be involved in the project, Leftwich said.