York teacher gets national history award

jbecknell@heraldonline.comMay 9, 2014 

Tracy Warren, 11th-grade history teacher at York Comprehensive High School, dresses as Rosie the Riveter when teaching about World War II.

COURTESY OF TRACY WARREN — YORK COMPREHENSIVE HIGH SCHOOL

— Tracy Warren enjoys bringing history to life.

In her York Comprehensive High School classes, she uses music, costumes, historical artifacts and more to achieve that end.

“I try to teach like I wish I had been taught in high school,” said Warren, who teaches 11th-grade American history. “I had teachers that were just boring.”

Warren, 47, recently was named Outstanding American History Teacher of the Year by the National Society of Daughters of Colonial Wars. The national award was presented last month during the group’s spring conference in Washington, D.C.

Leigh Van Blarcom, a volunteer at the Historical Center of York County at McCelvey Center, said Warren was honored with a state-level award by the South Carolina Daughters of Colonial Wars and went on to compete at the national level.

Jo Anne Boone, president of the South Carolina group, accepted the national award certificate and a $500 check on Warren’s behalf in Washington.

Warren has “a different way of getting history across to her students,” said Van Blarcom. “She gets the kids interested, and they want to know more.”

Warren, who has been teaching for 15 years in York and was honored in 2008 as the district teacher of the year, said her lessons include historical artifacts such as a piece of the Berlin Wall, an 1862 copy of the Abolitionist newspaper, a 1937 Communist Party handbook, a prescription for whiskey during the Prohibition era and a World War II helmet.

Warren said she purchases the artifacts with her own money or with teacher grants, including some provided by Family Trust Federal Credit Union.

“I have tons of artifacts, so when I am talking about something, I can pull that out and show the kids,” she said.

For example, when showing the Communist Party handbook, she said, “I tell the kids that if you had this in the 1950s, McCarthy would have been after you.”

Warren said students respond to her methods. “I think kids are more engaged in the lessons, and it sparks interest. They have questions and it leads into other discussions,” she said.

One of her teaching tactics involves music and dance. She uses hand jives when students are studying vocabulary to make the lesson active and fun.

“It’s taking vocabulary and putting a hand move or a dance to it,” she said.

When teaching about the Korean War, she said, students learn the Korean War Tango, a dance that includes movements based on how the war took place.

Warren also enjoys dressing up in costumes that range from simple to elaborate. She wears a long dress for the Victorian era and shorter skirts as a 1920s flapper.

She has a hippie costume for the 1960s and early 1970s, she said, and a housewife getup to represent the 1950s. She also dresses as Rosie the Riveter to represent women like her grandmother, who worked as a shipbuilder during World War II.

Warren said she talks about her family history during lessons, and some of her students are inspired to learn about their family histories.

She said that one of her goals is to make students who say they don’t enjoy history come to love it.

“I like to have fun, and I figure if I’m having fun, the kids are having fun,” she said. “In today’s world, there is so much the kids are exposed to, I really like to make the history come alive.”

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