- The Washington Times - Monday, November 11, 2002

Students at a North Carolina high school have traded in their history books for one-on-one interaction with soldiers who fought the Vietnam War and high-ranking government officials who made the tactical decisions.
By seeing the war through the eyes of those who lived it, the students absorb the "big picture" of how the conflict has shaped America's opinions and policies for nearly 30 years, said Lindy Poling, a history teacher at Millbrook High School in Raleigh, N.C., who has developed the hands-on approach that takes into account different points of view.
Ms. Poling said students learn better through exposure to firsthand experience and interaction with veterans as opposed to "marching through a textbook."
"It's all about making history come alive, and bringing the community together," Ms. Poling said. "I try in every major U.S. history unit to have one or two guest speakers to come in to make that real-world connection. These people I bring in, they are pretty interesting people. They can make history come alive. These are true stories."
Up to 50 seniors are taking her "Lessons of Vietnam" course, an elective that lasts 18 to 20 weeks. There are no tests, only projects that require students to interact with veterans and other speakers who visit the classroom. Ms. Poling said the approach helps students develop critical-thinking skills.
The list of speakers includes war veterans, widows, medical personnel, Red Cross workers, photographers, draftees, protesters and refugees.
Students correspond with the speakers through the class e-mail link program. Each one interviews and write a report on one of the speakers. The students also publish a newsletter, Bridges, that allows them to collect information, interpret their findings and write about the lessons they have learned in class.
"For a lot of the students, it is special attention that an adult who actually had experience in this time period is giving them," said Ms. Poling, who has taught the class for the past six years. "That is a big deal to get that kind of one-on-one attention."
They also attend a dinner to honor the veterans and, at least once a year, visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Ms. Poling said her class will be visiting the memorial wall today.
"We learned so much more by having these speakers in our classroom," said Elizabeth Rawls, 23, a former student who took the class when she was a senior in 1997. "We got more out of it than just reading a book about the war. We got to hear opinions and find out about their experiences."
Daniel Fitch, 20, a college student who took the class when he was a senior in 2000, agreed. "You get a lot more out of this type of class than you do if you just read books and took notes from lectures.
"It gives you real-life experiences that you can really reflect on," he said. "Nothing is more important than actually meeting these people and listening to them talk about what they went through. That's the best education you can get."
High school classes on the Vietnam War are hard to come by. Only a handful of high schools offer such courses, but the idea to teach it as a separate subject is growing, said Tricia Edwards, director of education at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund in Washington.
However, Ms. Poling's class is the only one that takes the community-in-the-classroom approach, Ms. Edwards said. Ms. Poling has won several national awards for her teaching methods.
"For years, many didn't want to talk about Vietnam because it was so controversial," Ms. Edwards said. "It's taken people years to gain perspective on the subject and also the country has grown more comfortable with it. We're just now coming to grips on how it impacted us as a nation and what it means to our history."

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