Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Civic Engagement. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.
The McLean County Museum of History, located in historic Downtown Bloomington, traces its roots back to 1892, the year that the McLean County Historical Society was founded. Since then, we have lived our mission to “preserve, educate, and collaborate in sharing the diverse stories of the people of McLean County” through collections, exhibits, programs, and outreach.
We strive to create educational programs that not only teach local history, but also help foster an environment that excites all members of our community—regardless of identity(ies)—who want to learn more about the history around them and to see themselves as fellow history makers and keepers.
One such partnership that has grown and flourished for many years is with Illinois State University, in particular the Department of History. Illinois State and the Museum enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship in a variety of ways, including faculty and administrators serving on the Museum’s board of directors, students participating in our internship and volunteer programs, Museum staff providing educational programs to faculty and their students, faculty members guest curating Museum exhibits, and so much more!
One collaborative effort stands out amongst all the rest: the annual History and Social Sciences Teacher Symposium. It has been jointly sponsored by Illinois State University’s Department of History, the Museum, and the Regional Office of Education 17 (ROE 17) since 2007.
Each year, the annual history symposium services hundreds of practicing pre–K through 12 history and social science teachers from throughout the state of Illinois, and a contingent of upper-class Illinois State history education majors. The inclusive scope of the target audiences reflects what has been a primary goal of the symposium since its inception—to facilitate a connection between working teachers and students who are actively engaged in becoming the next generation of educators, as well as promoting the use of local history resources in the classroom.
Over the course of the last 15 years, the symposium—just as its organizers—has changed and adapted to current educational practices, standards, and educator/student needs. Beginning in 2007, sessions were offered at several Downtown Bloomington locations near the Museum. By the next year, the symposium included the David Davis Mansion, University of Illinois Extension, and the Museum as session locations. Fast forward to 2010, the Museum served as the sole host of the event. In 2015, Illinois State University hosted for the first time to accommodate construction at the Museum. And the rest, they say, is history.
Shifting the conference location to the University allowed for more participants than ever before simply because of the space available for sessions. This allowed the symposium to feature a record number of 35 unique sessions for the more than 200 educators, students, and presenters in attendance. Because of the overwhelming positive response by all those who participated in the 2015 conference, all three partners agreed that the location of the symposium would alternate year-to-year between the Museum and the University in order to highlight the assets of each location.
“The symposium provided me with invaluable insight and resources to my upcoming career,” said Grace Bartlett, 2021 graduate of the history education program and a current teacher at Bellville Township High School District 201. It has become a day which Bartlett looks forward each year “as a way to grow and network with both experienced and developing professionals in education.”
More change was on the horizon. The year 2020 threw a definite curveball at this collaborative effort with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we were fortunate to have been able to successfully complete the 2020 conference in person prior to lockdown, the continuation of the pandemic into 2021 necessitated the conference transition to a completely virtual platform. But as a result, the online format made it possible to expand the reach and duration of related programming through book talks, an evening keynote, and for the first time an entire strand of sessions for high school students.
In February 2022, thanks to vaccines and face masks, the History and Social Sciences Teacher Symposium joyously returned in-person to the campus of Illinois State (though we were thankful for online technology allowing us to host portions of the conference online due to Illinois winter weather).
For Bradley Marcy (a veteran attendee, presenter, and Illinois State alumnus) who currently teaches at LeRoy Junior and Senior High Schools, the annual symposium has become a yearly tradition for Central Illinois Teachers.
“The History Symposium fills a glaring gap in professional development and even professional community building that plagues Midwestern educators,” said Marcy. It has also afforded Marcy the “opportunity to grow as an educator and forge lifelong friendships with fellow educators from across the state.” This collaborative event has given him “the opportunity to learn from colleagues while also teaching the next generation of history/social studies teachers” in our state.
Despite changes in staffing at partner organizations, size, and location of the conference, and even virtual versus in-person over the last 15 years, the core partnership has remained the same: Illinois State, the Museum, and ROE 17. The Museum is thankful to have such excellent and supportive partners who see the value in including local history in their curriculum and encouraging students and educators to explore the history that can be found right outside their window.
We look forward to this partnership in all of its facets continuing for many more years to come.