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Bringing White House History to Local Schools

by Courtney Speckmann, White House Historical Association on

For the past eight years, the White House Historical Association has offered in-school programs for elementary students in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. When they started, our offices were located in a townhouse on Lafayette Square with no space for programs or events. The idea of bringing White House history to the schools was an exciting way for us to further our mission, work with our local community, and address our lack of space.

 

Students participate in the First Kid for a Day program in their classroom to learn about families and traditions at the White House

We currently offer five in-school programs for students in grades K-6 that emphasize the role of the White House as a home, office, and museum. All of the programs are standards-based, free of charge, and feature an experienced educator visiting the classroom for one hour.  We recommend that no more than 30 students participate at one time and typically will be able to facilitate up to four sessions in one day. This ensures that each student has an opportunity to participate in the discussion and hands-on activities.

If we know anything about teachers, it’s that they’re extremely busy. They also have more pressure to connect everything they do to the standards and curriculum with less money available for field trips.  Offering a standards-based program that is free of charge and travels to their school has allowed us to be more accessible to our local community. We strive to make the entire process as simple as possible with an online reservation form and a follow-up email to schedule a date for the program. We let the teachers create the schedule for the day using a template that provides information about the school, including parking instructions, room numbers and contact information. We will then send the teachers a pre-visit lesson, resources, and activities to help the students prepare for our visit.

Offering in-school programs is not without challenges. Staffing hours can be very limiting when you consider the time it takes to schedule the programs and spend a day at the schools. Additionally, most teachers still need to get approval from their administrators for any program that takes place in the classroom and provide evidence that the program meets the standards requirements.

In 2010, the Association established the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History at Decatur House as part of a co-stewardship agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Although this space allows us to diversify our educational offerings by adding field trips and public programs, we still place value in maintaining our in-school programs and have seen continued growth each year.  In-school programs help us be more accessible and provide a greater reach and connection within our community. We have established a great relationship with many local teachers and schools, many who have participated in our programs every year. Connecting with local social studies coordinators and administrators and word of mouth amongst teachers has helped to expand the reach of our programs and has been a great way for them to learn more about our organization.

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