Meadow on the north side of La Sierra, Costilla County, Colorado


The San Luis Valley Seminar

Educating the Educators

The Landmarks of American History Project, an educational initiative by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is coming to the San Luis Valley in summer 2020. Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center will be hosting an educators’ workshop seminar as part of the NEH project.

“We’re one of sixteen projects around the country that is being funded by the NEH,” said Eric Carpio, the director of Fort Garland Museum. “Teachers from around the country will be able to participate.”

The project at Fort Garland is titled “Borderlands of Southern Colorado,” and it’s comprised of two one-week workshops. The goal of the workshop is to educate teachers from all across the United States on how a shifting historic border in the region has impacted individual and community identity, culture, governments, ecosystems, economies, and beyond to how these borderlands issues continue to resonate today. Teachers will then be able to take those lessons back with them to their classrooms, and be able to apply it across the K-12 humanities curriculum.

The workshop will highlight areas all across the San Luis Valley in southwestern Colorado. Teachers will be taken to historic locations and communities in the valley, which was one of the earliest colonized regions of Colorado—if not the earliest—including some sites that are generally not open to the public.

The sites being visited include some of the oldest still-standing buildings in the state of Colorado, such as Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in the town of Conejos.

Log Cabin at La Sierra

This historic log cabin located at La Sierra is usually not open to viewing by the public, but is one of the sites featured during the seminar.

Courtesy Lia Carpio

“We’ll provide participants that opportunity to walk the land, and talk with not just educators and scholars but also members of the community,” said Carpio. “It’s important to combine that academic, scholarly work with the community voices. Every day there will be a way to interact with local community members who are either living this history, or who have been directly impacted by it.”

This sort of hands-on, in-the-field experience can be extremely beneficial for both local teachers and those from out of state. The Fort Garland team has designed the seminar with exactly that in mind.

“My background is in education,” said Carpio. “I’m always thinking about how we can take this really amazing knowledge, and broaden the impact of it. In my view, we could really expand on that work if we take it outside the walls of our museum. We can take this really amazing knowledge from scholars and from our community, and provide that for teachers to apply in their classrooms.”

Tour of San Luis, Colorado by Move Mountains Youth Leaders

Participants in the pilot project were given a tour of San Luis by Move Mountains Youth Leaders.

Courtesy Lia Carpio

“If students can see themselves in history, or recognize familiar places and people, that may inspire them,” said Carpio.

“I was able to learn things and experience my home through a different, more analytical lens,” said Shelly Grandell, an educator from the San Luis Valley. Grandell has taught middle school science in Denver for twelve years, and last year she had the opportunity to participate in the pilot program of the Borderlands seminar. This was a shortened three-day experience offered only to teachers within Colorado, but it featured many of the same themes and concepts, as well as some of the unique sites that the full seminar will offer next summer.

“While I am from the valley and have deep roots and connections, it was so valuable to work with others that offer different perspectives and ideas for students that I may not have thought of,” said Grandell. “Many aspects of this seminar make it so different from others that I have been to. It isn’t district-mandated, standards-focused, or assessment-based…. So many facets of the history are told through community members, residents, and those that have experienced the shifting of borders. There is something for all teachers, from kindergarten to middle school science and AP world history.”

There is a definite need and desire for this kind of education to enter communities, both in the younger generation and among their parents and grandparents.

"I hear this all the time when people visit the Borderlands exhibits,” said Carpio, referring to the newest exhibits at History Colorado museums in Trinidad and Pueblo. Those exhibits, as well as the new installation which will be coming to the Fort Garland Museum, focus on the same topic as the educator seminar will: Colorado’s history as a borderlands and cultural crossroads. “They say, ‘I wish I knew this, I wish I learned that growing up.’ So how can we, as a museum, change that for future generations? By interacting with local teachers.”

The Landmarks of American History Project works on a national scale, so the benefits of these education seminars extend far beyond just local teachers in Colorado.

Teachers from all over the country will have the opportunity to attend the seminar in the San Luis Valley, not just those from the Southwest. One of the goals of the project is to give teachers first-hand experience in the places they teach about, so that they can pass that experience on to their students.

La Capilla de Todos Santos, a historic church in the town of San Luis, CO.

La Capilla de Todos Santos, a historic church in the town of San Luis, CO. This church is one of many sites that will be visited during the seminar.

Courtesy Lia Carpio

“We’re also thinking about how to take concepts that, on the surface, seem like they’re only relevant to this area, and think about them in broader ways,” said Carpio. “So that a teacher from Georgia or Vermont could think about how some of these same issues and challenges have taken place in their local context.”

The first session of the Borderlands of Southern Colorado educators seminar will be held starting June 22, 2020. Teachers and educators of all kinds, from all across the country, are invited to apply. Applications are currently open.