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Making History

Five history teachers at West Springfield win national teaching award.

Learning from Rosie the Riveter and having an after-school film festival about the Vietnam War are two of the unorthodox ways the 11th-grade history team at West Springfield High School tries to bring history to life for its students.

Little do those students know their teachers are about to be nationally recognized for their years of hard work.

Laurie Fischer, Maggie Tran, Jim Percoco, Ron Maggiano and Tami Ogden were recently named winners of the Beveridge Family Teaching Prize by the American Historical Association, the largest and oldest organization of kindergarten through 12th-grade history teachers in the country.

Nominated by former co-worker Jamie Morris, the five teachers have a combined total of more than 65 years of bringing history to West Springfield students and have enjoyed the recognition since learning of their award in November.

"We think we won the prize because Jamie's nomination was so well written and, not to brag, but we work together as a team and each of us brings something different to the table," said Maggie Tran, who teaches U.S. and AP history courses.

Fischer, for example, has dressed up as Rosie the Riveter for the past 16 years to discuss life in America during World War II.

"Maggie does a lot of work through outside organizations and brings back different ways to utilize technology into the classroom with visual images to really connect with primary sources," said Ogden, who teaches U.S. history.

The team of five teachers "genuinely respects and likes each other," said Maggiano, who impressed his doctorate professors at George Mason University when he told them of the award.

"Some people can't believe how well we work together. It's very much a cooperative effort," he said.

IN THE PAST, the teachers have organized an after-school film festival, with each teacher showing a different film in their rooms for students to watch and discuss. One year, Adrien Cronauer, featured in the film "Good Morning, Vietnam" was invited as a guest speaker.

"It's pretty awesome to finally get recognition for the work we've been doing," Fischer said. "We don't get recognized on a regular basis. At the same time, it's kind of scary. They had the whole country to choose from and they picked us."

As an undergraduate student, Ogden said she attended the American Historical Association conference and was impressed with the "caliber of historians there. It's a pretty amazing thing to be part of such a great team," she said.

The team will receive its award during a conference in Philadelphia in January.

"This affirms what we do and that we do it well," Percoco said. "We've been able to teach to the SOLs in a creative way and we have the test scores to prove it."

Last year, over 96 percent of 11th-grade students passed the Standards of Learning test, the highest percentage in Fairfax County, he said. "Every single African-American student passed that test in our school," he added.

The impact these teachers have on their students is more personal than test scores, however.

"About an hour ago, a senior came up to me and told me she missed having my class," Tran said. "She told me that she's applying to be a history major at Princeton and Stanford. That means more to me than the award."