Add West Springfield High School (Virginia) history teacher James Percoco to my list of America's unsung heroes. On day three of the Organization of American Historians' annual meeting, I learned about the work he has put in for nearly 20 years teaching an applied history course. Students start by hitting the books and then head into the field to gain hands-on experience -- often learning to tell the story of an important place through the perspective of someone who was there.
"We create student historians and they tell the story about that person," Percoco said.
To date, his students have contributed more than 30,000 man-hours to historic sites, museums and history agencies in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C. They've also been inspired to pursue a wide variety of history related careers in areas including curatorial work, museum studies and teaching.
I love initiatives that provide multiple benefits in one nice package. Percoco's labor of love helps students strive for greater academic success, gives them a chance to bring history to life and opens doors to rewarding career opportunities.
Percoco, though, is just one of an iphone full of unsung heroes I've met so far this week. To name just a few:
- Patsy Fletcher, an independent historian in the District, works with communities in the Northeast and Anacostia River areas to help them preserve their history. Her company, THREAD (Training, Historical Research and Economic Development) has helped numerous neighborhoods do everything from interpret sites to produce neighborhood histories that prevent their contributions from being lost to the pages of time.
- Lee White, executive director of the National Coalition for History, left his legal career to advocate for history. Working with some 60 national and local organizations across the country, he fights for causes including much-deserved funding for the National Park Service and National Archives and Records Administration, greater transparency in government, and stronger support for history education.
- Senior Editor Elizabeth Sherburn Demers works with Potomac Books to give sometimes overlooked authors a chance to tell powerful stories. A copy of Following the Drum: The Women at Valley Forge drew me to Potomac's booth in the exhibitor area. I've written about Following the Drum before. Many people don't realize the role women have played in every war in our history and I wish every American patriot would buy a copy of that book. Buy two, actually, and give one to a friend.
I've got a reporter's notebook full of the contributions other heroes are making. I hope to win the lottery soon so I have time to write about them all. And there's still one day left at the OAH meeting.
OAH Part 1: Historians descend on D.C.
OAH Part 3: Tom Hanks got it wrong