UNK-The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument isn’t just a landmark spanning Interstate 80, but also a promising educational tool. Creators of the Archway hope to make it a catalyst for people to learn about and understand the role of the Platte River Valley in America’s development.
University of Nebraska at Kearney Chancellor Gladys Styles Johnston is leading a commission established by the foundation building the Archway to ensure that it will be more than just a tourist attraction. Dr. Johnston organized the Great Platte River Road Foundation Educational Advisory Committee to realize the Archway’s full educational potential.
“The Archway Educational Commission presents us with a great opportunity to work closely with schools and communities. We hope to increase school childrenÕs appreciation of the memorial and the history it preserves and interprets,” said Johnston.
Inspired by former Governor Frank Morrison, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is a tribute to the route across America that shaped this country’s history. Frontiersmen, fur trappers, settlers, riders of the Pony Express and railroads all followed the route along the Platte River. The Lincoln Highway and Interstate 80, the country’s first transcontinental highway and interstate system, run parallel to the Great Platte River Road. In this age of information superhighways, the first fiberoptic cable spanning the country follows the road as well.
The educational commission is comprised of volunteer members from education, government and the private sector. It was established as a separate entity from the Archway Foundation, but will work with the foundation to create broad-based educational programs that will highlight the importance of American transportation and communication witnessed on the Great Platte River Road.
The commission has proposed a multi-discipline resource teaching guide. The commission wants to focus on the history of transportation and communication along the Great Platte River Road and the role that experience played in building and linking the nation from coast to coast. The guide will include lessons and activities that pertain to Nebraska social studies, math, science and language arts.
The commission hopes to print the resource guides this summer for every school in Nebraska. It also plans to conduct teacher in-services about the Archway curriculum as early as next fall and throughout the year.
Initially, the commission is focusing on Nebraska students in the fourth and eighth grades because these are the grades typically involved in teaching Nebraska history and the expansion across America, Johnston said. Educators can plan lessons revolving around transportation on the trail by horse, covered wagon, railroad or car, or focus on the variety of media people used to express their ideas such as art, dance, music and newspapers.
The K-12 curriculum is only the beginning. “Next, we will connect the Archway with the UNK community and form relationships with each of the individual academic departments at UNK,” Johnston said. The commission would like to incorporate the Archway into training future UNK teaching majors. Then they can include the information and activities in their programs. The commission doesn’t want to stop there. Eventually, all UNK students will be able to use the Archway as a resource for research and hands-on experience.
The broad impact of the Great Platte River Road is not limited to Nebraska schools. The commission can connect with non-Nebraska educators and institutions that are interested in the Great Platte River Road. Among them are the Oregon Trail organizations, the Union Pacific Railroad, Brigham Young University and the Social Studies Consortium in Boulder, Colo. A Web site will give Nebraska educators and students a central meeting point for information on Archway activities, and it will also give the information surrounding the Archway international exposure.