History’s education reach extends into classrooms

Showman of the Year 2012: A+E Networks - History

History is reaching beyond the TV screen and into the classroom, helping educators from all spheres of academia create more compelling experiences for their students.

Corporate outreach has been a part of A&E and History’s plan for many years and has expanded as of late under the hand of A+E Networks topper Abbe Raven, says senior VP Libby O’Connell, the conglom’s chief historian.

“When corporate outreach is a priority, things can get done. It can be more than just a little project or an initiative at a time,” O’Connell says.

The cabler emails classrooms each week about past and current events reaching 150,000 teachers. The Idea Book for Educators, a magazine that features tools for educators from all of A&E’s nets, reaches another 300,000 subscribers. And History also flaunts a slew of hands-on initiatives as well, from bringing veterans to schools for real-world lessons to helping fund Civil War education.

What’s surprising about these programs is the spontaneous way in which inspiration strikes bizzers at the top. “Take a Veteran to School Day,” for instance, which blossomed from a moment A+E Networks CEO emeritus and former Marine Nick Davatzes had while visiting his grandchildren’s school as a classroom guest.

“I had never seen his soft side like that,” O’Connell says. “It was so touching. I thought, ‘Wow, if this veterans’ project can have this impact on Nick Davatzes, it really is a powerful thing.’ ”

History’s efforts have been well received by teachers, who say the network’s materials help educators improve students’ classroom experiences. Inspiring students to see history as more than just lessons on “old dead people” can be a challenge, and Jasmin Brown, a teacher and history/social science department chair at Cesar Chavez Middle School, cites fresh, intriguing programs such as “America: The Story of Us” (“The No. 1 video I showed in class, definitely,” she says with a laugh) as part of the reason why she’s succeeded.

“We want kids to think like historians, to be critical and look at things from multiple angles,” Brown says. “It helps teachers’ critical thinking as well, because some teachers just like to rely on the textbook and History’s guides help pull them from that.”

O’Connell knows this, and takes pride in putting a priority on education rather than outright profits.

“This is part of our DNA,” she says. “We are the standard bearer.”