About 50 social studies teachers from Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties will travel to some of America's most historic sites under a nearly $1 million grant designed to increase their pupils' knowledge of U.S. history.

About 50 social studies teachers from Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties will travel to some of America's most historic sites under a nearly $1 million grant designed to increase their pupils' knowledge of U.S. history.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded the grant to the Southern Oregon Education Service District, which will use the money over three years to enhance the quality of intermediate and high school U.S. history classes. History is a subject in which most pupils are deficient, according to national assessments.

Less than one-quarter of the nation's students in grades 4, 8 and 12 show proficiency in U.S. history on the National Assessment of Educational Program, which is given to pupils across the United States.

By mandating that pupils be tested in reading and math, the federal No Child Left Behind Act has shifted attention away from history instruction, said Joe Peterson, ESD project director and adjunct instructor at Southern Oregon University.

"I think history is being squeezed out," Peterson said. "That's why grants to beef up teachers' knowledge of history is really positive."

Nationwide, 122 U.S. history education grants were awarded this month, representing $166 million over three years.

The Southern Oregon ESD was one of three grant recipients in the state, joined by Lane County and Douglas County education service districts.

The grant is the second the Southern Oregon ESD has been awarded since 2003.

With the previous three-year grant, the ESD sent about 40 history teachers from Southern Oregon to visit Colonial Williamsburg, Va., where they studied history and techniques intended to help enthrall pupils with the nation's past such as acting out historical characters.

"One of the challenging things in teaching history is making kids care about it and see the relevance of it today and in the future," said Karoli Cadarette, a history teacher at Ashland Middle School. "If you can make a connection and get them hooked, it's very positive."

Kevin Keating, a history teacher at Butte Falls High School, used some history interpretation techniques he learned through the last grant program to portray early U.S. statesmen John Jay and Daniel Webster by teleconference to history classrooms throughout Southern Oregon.

When Keating was playing John Jay, "one student asked me about why women weren't given the right to vote in the Constitution. It was kind of a difficult thing to have to defend that," he said.

Under the new grant, history teachers for grades 4 through 12 will travel to historically significant U.S. cities to attend a weeklong training seminar each summer in conjunction with the American Institute for History Education.

The itinerary includes a visit to Philadelphia in 2008 to study the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and the Revolution.

In 2009, teachers will head to Gettysburg, Pa., to see the battle sites of the Civil War. A study of the 20th century, particularly the Cold War, will take place in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

"Travel to historical sites is heavily built into the new grant because on the West Coast we're not close to all that history, and this is an opportunity to get up and close," Peterson said. "It makes a huge difference when you're talking to kids. It adds credibility, and it brings the history alive."

The grant also will fund quarterly history workshops to enrich teachers' content knowledge.

Cadarette, who plans to participate in the new grant program, said she has never visited Philadelphia, Gettysburg or Washington, D.C. She said she thinks traveling there will further enliven the lessons she gives.

"The visit to Williamsburg brought passion to teaching American history," said Cadarette, who was a science teacher until six years ago. "I'm sure it shows to the kids."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.