By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Lisa Racine, a history teacher at C.D. Hylton High School in Prince William County, does not care much for textbooks in the classroom. Instead of reading aloud from a monstrous history book, Racine instead will teach topics playing music, such as an Alan Jackson song related to the Sept. 11 attacks, or with photographs from the civil rights era that depict violent protests in Alabama.
"I have never, ever used a textbook during class time. There is not a bigger waste. They can use the textbook at home," Racine said. "You have them for 90 minutes and need to be teaching them something new. . . . I think teaching with pictures is very important. So many of us are visual learners."
Racine, who has taught in the Prince William school system since 1990, is the county's recipient this year of the Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award from The Washington Post. Other winners in the area include Jeffrey Florio, a math teacher at Manassas Park High School; Ann Kulakowski, an algebra and geometry teacher at Osbourn High School in the city of Manassas; and Beth Lepp, a reading specialist at Garrisonville Elementary School in Stafford County.
In Prince William, Racine is among several teachers at Hylton who have helped the school boost state Standards of Learning scores in history for the past several years, from a 90 percent pass rate in the 2004-05 academic year to 96 percent last year, according to state records.
"When you show students pictures from the children's march in Birmingham, Alabama, during the civil rights movement, where kids were hit by fire hoses and bitten by police dogs . . . you can ask them for adjectives," Racine said. "You could ask them, 'Could you stand there while the dog's biting you?' Too many teachers get tied up with videos, but there's a lot of primary sources out there if you want to show pictures."
Racine, who was reared in California (her students might find it hip that she attended the same high school as Kevin Costner), might be unusual among the top-tier teachers: She has little desire to teach college-level Advanced Placement courses, though she has respect for the curricula and those who teach them. She likes the freedom that comes with teaching general courses.
And it's clear that her students, especially those from long ago, have been riveted by her style.
Sarah Hangsleben, who graduated from Hylton in 2004, wrote in a letter supporting Racine for the Agnes Meyer award. She recalled Racine teaching the class how slaves were transported on ships from Africa. She "lined us up on the floor to demonstrate how much room it takes to move just 10 people. Then she had us lie on our sides, like the slaves were forced to do, essentially cutting the required room in half," Hangsleben recalled. "Five years later I still remember lying on the cold tile floor. . . . There is no other teacher that shaped me as a student and helped me grow and prepare for my future more than Mrs. Racine."
One other technique that Racine enjoys: requiring her students to interview their family members about what they recall from living through historic events. It's called the Family History Project, and the students spend a year writing their own textbooks based on personal and family recollections.
"We're able to compare their stories with what was happening in the nation," Racine said. "I certainly wish I had asked my grandmother, who was born in 1888, what she remembers about World War II and Teddy Roosevelt. I never got a chance to ask about that."