The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History has named Sarah Bailey, a teacher at South Portland High School, the 2020 Maine State History Teacher of the Year. Courtesy photo of Sarah Bailey

SOUTH PORTLAND — The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History announced on July 31 that Sarah Bailey of South Portland High School has been named the 2020 Maine State History Teacher of the Year.

Bailey has been at South Portland High School for 17 years, she said, teaching ninth and 11th grade. As the social studies department chair, she teaches both world and American history classes.

The announcement from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History said that the award was inaugurated in 2004 and “highlights the crucial importance of history education by honoring exceptional American history teachers from elementary school through high school.”

“The award honors one K-12 teacher from each state, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense schools and US Territories,” the institute added in its statement. “In fall 2020, the National History Teacher of the Year will be selected from the pool of state winners.”

A nonprofit, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History was founded in 1994 and is dedicated to K-12 grade students’ history education, with a mission to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources, said the announcement.

When Bailey learned that she had been honored this year, she said she was speechless.

“Due to COVID-19, (the announcement) ended up coming through email, and I had to read through it twice to make sure I was reading it correctly,” Bailey said.

Michele LaForge, principal at South Portland High School, said that the school is proud of Bailey’s accomplishment.

“Sarah’s teaching is distinguished by innovative approaches to bring students into the curriculum,” LaForge said. “As chair of our social studies department, she works with her colleagues to develop a strong, inclusive American history curriculum, which is needed now more than ever.”

According to the the institute, South Portland High School will receive a $1,000 honorarium and a “core archive” of American history books and materials.

Bailey is a National Geographic certified teacher. This curriculum in her classes gives students opportunities for hands-on history lessons.

“For example, with my world history students, we do a unit on climate change and how it affects the Maine Coast and lobster population,” Bailey said. “We worked with NatGeo and did an ice-melting experiment in class. Kids got a hands-on experiment they’d get in science class.”

In 2017, Bailey was recognized by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine for her teaching on the Holocaust, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History said.

Her favorite part about teaching at South Portland High School is the students’ genuine attitude, she said.

“I love the diversity of South Portland,” Bailey said. “The kids themselves, each one brings something to the table, and we have strong family support. We work well as a community, specifically in the department.”

Bailey said that her strong creativity skills work well in the classroom, and she is able to think “outside the box” when implementing lessons and curriculum.

“I would say one of my favorite parts is sharing the knowledge about what I have about different subjects, and being able to connect that,” she said. “That’s the biggest piece, especially in the world we live in now.”

Bailey said history class is more than what some current students’ parents may remember — a classroom of teenagers in their chairs, memorizing dates and people. Through the years, history classes have been developing. The social studies department at South Portland High School tries to make lessons relevant to current events.

“We always have a lot to learn from history,” Bailey said. “The saying goes, ‘History repeats itself.’ It may not always look the same, but it has the same dimensions.”

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