Teachers struggled for years to find books on local historical figures written for young students.
After three years of work, nine Denver Public Schools teachers have published 13 biographies to help third- and fourth-graders connect with Colorado’s distant past.
“I think they learned a lot about Colorado history, but the personal piece was missing, of hearing a story through the eyes of someone who lived through it here, in Colorado,” said Martha Biery, a fourth-grade teacher at Cory Elementary who wrote one of the books.
The 13 biographies — the Great Lives in Colorado History Series — profile history makers, including Gov. Ralph Carr, explorer Zebulon Pike and entrepreneur and philanthropist Charles Boettcher.
The series is in every DPS third-grade classroom and is also available for other school districts to purchase.
“It will help them connect better to understand the time period through people,” Biery said. “It adds a different way.”
The books are also helping to fill a limited supply of history resources written in Spanish. The bilingual books are English on one side, but if the book is flipped and turned backward, students can read it in Spanish.
The publishing project was funded by Colorado Humanities.
Having teachers write the books provided many benefits, said DPS chief academic officer Susana Cordova.
“Teachers are actually teaching the third grade, so they’re very knowledgeable about what they need,” Cordova said. “But we also developed experts of sorts who will be better able to support their students.”
Steve Walsh, a third-grade teacher at Ellis Elementary who wrote three of the biographies, said he was interested in delving deeper into Colorado history but also wanted the opportunity to write a book for his students.
“I jumped at the chance,” he said. “I have an idea of what reading level is at that point. I find I was very careful about vocabulary.”
The teacher-authors created glossaries in each book to help guide students through words and concepts that they might not understand.
For instance, in Biery’s biography of Rocky Mountain Fuels owner Josephine Aspinall Roche, economics was explained as the study of the way money, goods and services are made and used.
Each book also has questions for students to think about after they’ve read the biography.
“It’s completely accessible to them, so it helps them get excited,” said author and third-grade teacher Grace Zirkelbach. “This is how it really becomes embedded in their memory.”
Colorado Humanities hopes to raise $6,000 to fund the creation of 12 more biographies.
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