Edison Intermediate/Middle School fourth-grade teacher Diane Runyon has been named the 2011 Ohio History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
Runyon, who was nominated for the award by her Edison colleague Betsy Moutvic, is now a finalist for the $10,000 National History Teacher of the Year Award.
As a state winner, Runyon will receive a certificate of recognition, a $1,000 award and an invitation to attend a Gilder Lehrman summer seminar. An archive of books and historical resources will also be presented in her name to the Edison school library.
Runyon said she strives through classroom projects and activities to bring history alive to her students "and to make it more personal than just a bunch of facts in a book. History is fun."
Three years ago, Runyon built a full-scale prairie schooner covered wagon and placed it in her classroom, where she uses it as a unique visual aid while teaching about westward expansion and immigration.
This year, she made an old-fashioned rope bed with a mattress filled with wool to give students a firsthand look at how pioneers slept before the invention of modern bedding.
"Last year, we had an Ellis Island lunch, where the students brought in foods from their family's nationality," Runyon said. "We had a lunch set at Ellis Island.
"It's all about making history as real as possible for the students," she said.
"I have a passion for history and I'm happy when I can help create an interest in history in my students," Runyon said. "I want them to see history can be a lifelong passion that enriches your life."
As part of a unit on genealogy, Runyon had students research their family histories using resources on the Internet. Students were also assigned during the holiday break to interview the oldest member of their family.
Each student created a comic book detailing the history of their family, from their immigration to America up to the present day.
"I'm very fortunate to work in a district like Grandview that is open to trying different ways to teach students history," Runyon said. "Imagine being allowed to put a covered wagon right in the middle of your classroom."
Fourth-grader Micah Clark Moody simply describes Runyon as being "awesome.
"We get to do so many cool projects in her class," she said.
Runyon allows students to see both the good and bad of history and the hard times that pioneer families had to go through, Clark Moody said.
"Not to talk badly about other teachers, but sometimes they just tell you about the happy side of history," she said.
By discussing the difficulties their ancestors had to face, students learn "life isn't just a big party," Clark Moody said. "It makes history more real and more interesting. We talk about it outside of class."
Fourth-grader Sophie Beacom said she couldn't believe her eyes when she first walked into Runyon's class.
"I said, 'Wow, there's a covered wagon in here,'" she said.
Her interest in history has grown during this school year, thanks to her teacher and the various class projects, Beacom said.
She particularly enjoyed the genealogy unit, during which her research revealed her family is related to William Brewster, a captain on the Mayflower, and that Ashley Judd is a distant relative.
"It's amazing to find out my family goes back so far, back to the 1600s," Beacom said. "When we visited my grandparents, it was so great to tell them stories about our family history and see their faces light up."
The history teacher of the year award is co-sponsored by Gilder Lehrman, the History Channel and Preserve America.
The national award winner will be announced in the fall.