Kelley named Vermont History Teacher of the Year

By Stephen Seitz

The spotlight of recognition shone on Chester-Andover Elementary School teacher Frank Kelley recently, as he was named Gilder Lehrman Vermont History Teacher of the Year for 2011-2012.

Frank Kelley/photo by shawn cunningham

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization that promotes the study of American history and provides resources to help teachers. Each year, the organization recognizes one outstanding teacher from each of the 50 states, a pool from which a national history teacher of the year is selected.

“This comes from the folks at the Flow of History,” Kelley said, referring to the Brattleboro-based organization that nominated him for his work on teaching the Civil War.

Kelley takes a hands-on approach to teaching history. Instead of presenting a dull recitation of names, dates and places, Kelley had his students go to primary sources — period documents, letters, photographs and the like. He would take the kids into the field – to the cemetery next to the elementary school to get names off tombstones, do tombstone rubbings and track their soldiers down on the Internet to learn more about their roles in the war.

“We used Vermont Civil and maps of Chester from the 1850s and 1860s,” Kelley said. “We targeted soldiers who lived locally. Each of the kids came up with little nuggets of information, which is the basis of understanding what went on in the Civil War.”
From there, it was time to do the detective work, he said.

“By spending time in the cemetery, the kids learned to read the gravestones and how the gravestones tell the history,” Kelley said.
He tries to bring three dimensions to all his classes, Kelley added. For one recent project, he set up a miniature government in the classroom: senators to craft bills (the school’s rules serve as a constitution), a governor to sign or veto the bill and judges to interpret the bill.

“That’s how they get to know how government works,” Kelley said. “They were surprised to learn that the governor can’t modify a bill once it gets to his desk, and neither could the judges. Government becomes real for them because they’ve done it in the classroom.”

The class is going to Montpelier in early May, and Kelley said he is hopeful the students will get a chance to meet Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Castleton professor Mike Austin heads Gilder Lehrman’s Vermont chapter, and recently spent a day in Kelley’s classroom to see his methods in action.

One of the kids told me, ‘I don’t think Mr. Kelley knows how much he taught us about history and technology,’ ”Austin said. “It was great to see the kids get all excited. Frank employs visual learning techniques, which is good. On this day, they saw a photo of a graveyard with wooden tombstones, Why would that be? Why would they make those markers? The kids become history detectives as they find out.”

Susan Rooker, who heads the Flow of History, nominated Kelley. “Frank brings a historian’s approach to teaching history,” she wrote in her nominating letter. “He uses primary sources, both national and local, throughout his curriculum. In his Civil War unit, he helps students connect to the past by engaging them in a soldier research project. He takes students to the local cemetery to search for local soldiers.”
Rooker also noted Kelley’s accomplishments outside the classroom.

“Frank has been a true leader in the history teaching community of Vermont,” she wrote. “He has led primary source workshops, spoken at Vermont Alliance for the Social Studies annual conferences and the American Association for State and Local History national conference about his classroom work, and participated on the Flow of History advisory board. He has published lesson plans, collaborated with community historians, and sought ways to connect history to service learning.”

Gilder Lehrman spokeswoman Kathleen Wesner said that teacher nominations are taken all year round, but the cutoff for a given school year is in February. More information can be found at

More information about the Flow of History can be found at its website,

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About the Author: Steve Seitz is an author, journalist and film critic based in Springfield,VT. He has reported local news in the Upper Connecticut River Valley for many years. Steve has been interviewed on NPR's "The Story" for his knowledge of cinematic music. He also has interviewed such cinematic luminaries as James Earl Jones, Jerry Lewis, James Whitmore, Matthew Lewis ("Neville Longbottom" from the Harry Potter films), and an original cast member from every "Star Trek" series, among many others. He is working on other novels.

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  1. Wayne says:

    Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy! Congratulations Mr. Kelley. CAES is very lucky to have such a gifted and invested educator.