By Jeff Urbin, Education Specialist

IMG_7116The learning begins as students enter the lobby of the Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum welcomed by the  friendly smile of our nation’s thirty-second president beaming down at them from a larger-than-life photograph. What lies beyond is a museum that brings to life the story of a twelve year presidency consisting of four national elections, the Great Depression, the Second World War; and the most remarkable First Lady of the 20th century. That’s a lot to cover in a single field trip.

How can it possibly be done?  That is a question that has both dogged, and delighted, me since becoming the Library’s education specialist nearly 13 years ago. The answer lies in breaking it all down and making sure that we address some fundamental elements that contribute to a meaningful educational experience. We begin with the intended audience in mind. Every decision that goes into planning and presenting our education programs is designed to meet the needs of the teachers and their students.  Next we make sure that all of our programs are curriculum based, grade appropriate, and rich with primary source documentation. On the actual the day of the visit each group receives a program presented either by me, or one of my staff of four retired New York State Certified teachers.

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Three additional overarching principles run through each of the programs: the first is that given the limited time that the students are on site; there is no way that we can tell anything even approaching the entire Roosevelt story. We can only hope to ‘plant the seeds of wonder’ in the students – to spark in them an interest in the presidency, public service, and the chances and challenges that history has presented us with.  The second principle is to highlight certain ‘points of departure’ for further examination of the issues and topics we introduce. A key element in teaching students how to be critical thinkers is to challenge them with questions, not simply supply them with answers. A fieldtrip to the Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum provides a wonderful point of departure from which students and teachers are invited and encouraged to explore the past in greater depth and detail. This can be done either in the classroom or on their own.

The final, and in many ways most important, principle is to make students aware that so much of  what surrounds us in the world today can be traced back to the time of  the Roosevelts. Some of these “current connections’-for example the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Great Recession of the last several years – are obvious. Others such as the push to expand electrification to rural areas then, and the push to expand WI-FI to some of these same areas today, are not.

By applying the simple recipes as described above, seasoned with a dash of fun, the Roosevelt Presidential Library’s education department fulfills the educational needs of more than 16,000 students, and 1000 teachers who visit our site each year. Look for my next blog when I will talk about our distance learning opportunities and web materials for those of you too far away to visit in person.