PAA Walks Students Through History

December 22, 2021 | Education | Sean Kootsey

“But it happened so long ago.” “The textbook is so boring.” These are not uncommon phrases uttered by history class students. Many adults would agree when recalling their own experiences in high school years or even decades ago.

Fortunately, 21st century social studies teachers have many more resources readily available to engage students in the exploration of the past. This includes access to archives, primary documents, high-quality documentaries and experts from all over the world. Bringing these things into the classroom and sharing best practices with each other allows a teacher to engage students in ways no textbook can, while broadening their understanding of the world today.

At Portland Adventist Academy, social studies are taken a step further — instead of solely bringing history into the classroom, students go to the history! Every two years, PAA offers a summer United States history class and tour. After the class has met for several weeks and key understandings of U.S. history have been laid as a foundation, students, parents and teachers depart on a two-week tour of major historical sites on the East Coast.

The group visits sites such as the Freedom Trail in Boston, Lexington and Concord, The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the United Nations. The trip includes stops at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Gettysburg National Military Park, Colonial Williamsburg and countless locations in Washington, D.C. including The White House, The U.S. Capitol, The Supreme Court and Smithsonian Museums.

“Would you rather read about Gettysburg in a textbook or be in Gettysburg and walk Little Round Top where Colonel Chamberlain held the extreme left of the Union Army,” said Sean Kootsey, PAA history teacher. “History comes alive through experiential learning, by being there, by touching it."

“Both my sons were able to participate in the PAA U.S. history class tours,” said Cindy Ulloa, “which created life-long memories for them. Learning by experience gave them knowledge and perspective for the foundation of our country, which is hard to get from just reading a book”.

One highlight of the tour is visiting an active archeological site in Jamestown, VA, the site of the first English settlement in North America. Students discover that professional historians continue to learn more about these influential sites.

A spiritual highlight is visiting Arlington National Cemetery on Sabbath, where a PAA student lays a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on behalf of the PAA community. “... It’s a completely different experience than just reading about it,” said Senior Samuel Ngo who presented the wreath on the last trip in 2019. 

“Walking through history creates permanent memories and a better understanding of our history,” Ulloa reflected, “while at the same time creating an incredible experience never to be forgotten.”

Plans are already in the works for the next history tour this summer.