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by Jeff Urbin, Education Specialist

01.08.2014 Senior Learning Franklin Roosevelt held the first of his famous “fireside chats” just days into his presidency thereby demonstrating his understanding of the importance of bringing accurate and unfiltered information directly from the source to the people. Today, with the help of quickly evolving technology, that tradition is being continued and expanded thru the Roosevelt Library’s Education Department’s distance learning program.

Whether you call it a virtual field trip, distance learning, or video conferencing, the ability to bring real-time, interactive learning and information into the classroom via technology is a modern educational miracle. Over the last three years the Roosevelt Presidential Library’s education department has provided dozens of distance learning sessions to thousands of students all across the United States, and as far away as Australia!

Classroom students are not the only learners who benefit from distance learning. The Roosevelt Library has been a pioneer in providing distance learning sessions to residents of adult and assisted living facilities. These folks are members of the Roosevelt demographic who, due to distance and/or mobility issues, are not able to visit the Library in person. Many of them have first-hand memories of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt from their childhood, or can remember their parents talking about them. The interactive nature of the video conference format allows residents to share their stories with the presenter which makes for a far richer session for everyone.

Advances in video conferencing technology have made it possible to bring information about the Roosevelts, the Great Depression and World War II to outside venues in an educational, interactive, and economical format.  Just as FDR did with his Fireside Chats, we are bringing the information to the people; people of all ages and different situations.  We think FDR would be amazed by the technology and very pleased with the results.

If you would like more information about distance learning programs, or would be interested in booking a session, contact me at

Distance Learning 2014

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.


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.

2013 was an amazing year for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.


Hyde Park-20130403-00938The three year renovation of the Library building was finished in March. We moved the archival collections, research operations, and archival staff offices back into the renovated Library from the Wallace Visitor Center where they have been located since summer 2010.  In April, we brought 164 pallets of additional materials back to Hyde Park from the George W. Bush Library warehouse in Texas where they were housed during our renovation.  Our 35,000 museum objects were safely tucked into their new museum storage rooms and our museum staff moved for the final time into their new office spaces.  Throughout the entire renovation process, the Roosevelt Library never closed its research room to researchers and always made sure our visitors had exhibits to see.

IMG_0689We completed work on the final design, fabrication, and installation of the Roosevelt Library’s new 12,000 square foot permanent museum exhibition. In addition, we developed a system of directional signage for the new exhibits and moved all of the original furnishing from FDR’s Study back into place prior to the reopening of the new galleries. The Library’s new permanent exhibition opened to great critical acclaim on June 30, 2013 and Museum visitation since the opening date has risen dramatically.  All of our renovation work and our exhibit development and installation were on time and on budget.

We also celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center on November 15th.  Before we had this wonderful building, we sold tickets out of a shack, we hid our Museum Store in the Library basement, and we had no space for Education and Public Programs.  Through an amazing partnership of federal funds and private money raised by the Roosevelt Institute, we took an empty piece of land and built an amazingly versatile and beautiful building.  As we built this, we promised the community that it would become a part of their lives.  And I am happy to report we have been successful in achieving that.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the past 10 years, over 100,000  people representing over  1200 organizations have used our meeting spaces, over 150,000 students have learned about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in our Multi-Purpose Rooms and over one million visitors have enjoyed the wonderful amenities, taken pictures with our Franklin and Eleanor statue, and marveled at the beautiful mosaic map in the lobby.

And on December 4th we introduced the birth of FRANKLIN. Whether you are a lover of history, a student working on a school project, or a scholar, FRANKLIN allows you to keyword search for archival documents and photographs and to search, browse, and view whole files, just as you could if you came to the Library’s research room in-person. Now available online are some of the most important documents of the twentieth century — primary source documentation of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s experiences leading the nation through the Great Depression and World War II.  FRANKLIN launched with 350,000 pages of archival documents and 2,000 historical photographs.

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 FRANKLIN is the result of a special cooperative effort — a unique combination of public, nonprofit, education and corporate support. The Roosevelt Library and its parent agency, the National Archives, worked with nonprofit partner the Roosevelt Institute to digitize a large amount of microfilmed archival documents. The Library’s digital partner and web host, Marist College, then developed and implemented FRANKLIN’s underlying database infrastructure.  Marist runs the system using powerful servers manufactured by Marist and Roosevelt Library corporate partner, IBM.


During 2013 our education department provided programming for almost 15,000 students from second grade to elderhostel, conducted more than a dozen teacher workshops, for over 400 teachers including week-long workshops for teachers from New Orleans and Missouri.   We expanded our Distance Learning Program (video conferencing) conducting over two dozen sessions, for more than 500 students and 50 teachers. Paramount to our education efforts was the recreating of education programs and materials for the new museum galleries.  We created a 16 page Fala booklet to guide younger children, a New Deal and WWII focused guided note taking tour of the exhibits, and a series of civic holiday activity sheets for young museum visitors.

DSCN3010The Roosevelt Library developed, promoted, and implemented a full calendar of public programs in 2013 including individual book talks, film presentations in partnership with the Pare Lorentz Center at the FDR Presidential Library, and a series of popular annual events including our tenth annual Roosevelt Reading Festival.  For two weeks in August, through the generosity of Mount Vernon, we hosted an exhibit featuring President George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, “Acts of Congress.”

And all throughout the year the Library produced exciting and innovative social media and web feature content to celebrate our accomplishments and inform our audiences worldwide.  Particularly successful was our 100 Days countdown to the grand reopening of our museum which resulted in an extraordinary increase in social media followers – most notably almost 50,000 new followers on Tumblr.

None of our successes would be possible without the creative and energetic Roosevelt Library staff, the support of our National Archives family, the dedication of the Library Trustees, the generosity of the Roosevelt Institute, and the interest and support of our visitors, social media friends and followers.  We look forward to sharing a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2014 with you.

Jeff Urbin

I joined the staff of the Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum as the Education Specialist in April 2001. At the time I was still under contract as an Instructor of Government and American History with Dutchess Community College. As soon as the semester ended in the early part of May, I began my full-time Education Specialist responsibilities and was shocked to find myself starting my new position just at the very peak of the school fieldtrip season!

With the help of two seasoned volunteers, Joe Gleeson and Bob Richardson, and with the support and guidance of Lynn Bassanese, who had been running the education department until I was fully on board, I assumed the burden of teaching the students of today about the world of the Roosevelts’ in the 1930s and 40s.

My biggest concern was, how was I going to make a president who lived in a time before television, computers, and the widespread use of air conditioning, pertinent to the net-connected (addicted?) young learners of the 21 first century?  Sadly, it was not long before events would answer the question for me.

The surprise attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th 2001 stood in direct parallel to the surprise attack on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. Concerns over WMD’s -weapons of mass destruction- had direct tiebacks to the Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic Bomb. In November 2008, the United States broke a significant racial barrier and elected our nations’ first African American President, this just sixty-seven years after the racially tainted internment of Japanese Americans. As economic conditions went from bad to worse I was probably one of the only people in America who welcomed the “Great Recession” for its wealth of teachable moments which make the teaching of the Great Depression so much easier.

To my astonishment, my biggest concern turned out to be my biggest lesson, and it’s the lesson that my staff and I try to instill in the more than 15,000 students who visit our site each year: that so many of the issues and concerns faced in the Roosevelt era are still with us today.  And that as we press to move forward, we must pause to look back at the lives and legacies of an extraordinary President and First Lady, who left us with so many rich and valuable lessons from which we all can learn.

March 4, 1944

“…I am quite sure that every writer finds as I do, that every time he goes over something he has written, he wants to change it a little. Sometimes writers want to tear their work up and start again, because they feel they have presented the subject from the wrong point of view. Sometimes they just want to change words so they can express the meaning more exactly. Sometimes they despair of ever putting into words what they feel and want others to feel.

If you are a good reporter you have a chance to study so many of the different aspects of the world about you, social questions, political questions, questions of national and international importance. You find yourself constantly being introduced to worlds of thought, and you are never without something to study. From my point of view it is a satisfactory profession, if not a glamorous one.

Mr. Vander Veen emphasized the necessity of having your facts and telling the truth as well as you can. One young girl said afterwards: “It looks to me as though you have to wait until you are a columnist before you can be a crusader.” I wonder if it isn’t being a crusader to learn to give facts and to try to get the truth before the readers of a paper. It is not easy for the average person to get at the truth. Even a statement which results from one person’s honest search is helpful to many people….”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

January 24, 1956

“NEW YORK—…It is not too early, I think, to remind my readers that the 59th anniversary of the founding of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers will be celebrated on Founder’s Day, Friday, November 17. Mrs. Rollin Brown, the national president, has announced that special programs will be held in most of the 41,000 local units across the country.

I feel that the PTA is one of the most important organizations in the country, primarily because it can wield the greatest influence on our future because of its close touch with the children of our country.

The organization was founded in Washington, D.C., on February 17, 1897, by two valiant women, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who held that “what is right and good for the favored children is right and good for all children.”

This was a most advanced view for those days, and even today we have not achieved the equality of opportunity for all children which they hoped for. However, we are doing better every year, and I think this organization has helped in the progress achieved for all of our children.”

Click here for the complete My Day article.

March 3, 1938

“NEW YORK, Wednesday—…Do you ever find that something you hear about today, puts you in close touch with some entirely unexpected person tomorrow? I walked into the Steinway Building the other morning and was taken up to see the members of the firm and our friend Mr. Junge. After the first greetings, Mr. Steinway said to me:

“I have a boy at Bard College near your home, and we are so much interested in it because of his interest and pleasure in his work there.”

Only last week, at Hyde Park, one of my country friends, Mrs. Hamm, who has a marvelous roadside stand on the Albany Post Road, came to see me and begged me to help them keep this small college open because it meant so much to their community. I confess I had never thought of it from the community point of view.

She explained that up as far as Hudson and down as far as Poughkeepsie, this college served the people of the countryside. The professors made speeches at local club meetings. The people Bard College brought from the outside world for lectures or for music, created opportunities of interest to everyone. The college gave work to people nearby and trade to the shops, but it was really the loss it would mean in cultural opportunities which stirred the whole rural community. One thing the College music department has done, for instance, is to draw numbers of people in to sing in a neighborhood chorus. This has brought pleasure to the participants and an increased appreciation of music.

It seems to me that when a small college means enough to its people and the countryside, for them to go out and raise money to keep it open, as Mr. Steinway tells me his boy and other pupils and people are doing, it is fulfilling its educational function so well it deserves the interest of the public. I hope the college will also receive a measure of outside support.”

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