By Dr. Curtis Varnell
This is Arkansas, a regional history seminar for teachers, was held at Paris school auditorium on June 23. The seminar, in its eleventh year, attracts teachers from across the state and affords them the opportunity to experience the culture, history, and music of the South.
This is Arkansas had an outstanding class of educators and presenters, each of which presented a one hour session on various aspects of Arkansas. The keynote address was entitled the Caves of Arkansas and was presented by Dr. J. Van Brahana, professor emeritus of the University of Arkansas.
Sweet Strings, a Logan County dulcimer and traditional instrument group, entertained the group with songs representing the culture and history of our region. Included were songs of coal mining, ballads, and stories of love won and lost.
Dr. Tom Wing of U/A Fort Smith and the curator of the Drennan museum in Van Buren, created a living history lesson on the early history of Crawford and Sebastian County. Dr. Wing, a gifted story teller, described the early history of Wyatt Earp and his association with this area as well as provided background on Arkansas as the jumping off place for westward expansion. At the conclusion of his presentation, he was presented a plaque recognizing his contribution to educating the students and teachers of the region.
Mr. Patrick Millard of Waldron and his father told Folk Tales and language of the Ouachita and presented a repertoire of southern music using the banjo and guitar.
Dr. Curtis Varnell discussed teaching social studies in a changing world, using the story of Sherriff James L. Garner as a backdrop to teaching students that life requires hard work and ethics to success.
Normally held at the King Opera House in historic downtown Van Buren, the seminar was moved to the large Paris auditorium so teachers could practice social distancing. The annual event normally attracts close to 150 teachers but was limited to 60 in order to meet CDC guidelines.
Most area teachers are required 60 hours of professional development during the summer. Due to the virus, many of the sessions has been restricted to on-line and digital format. GFESC has attempted to offer teachers the opportunity to choose the format that best fits their need and health concerns. Although many safety restrictions are in place, teachers enjoy the time to have face-to-face instruction and communication with their instructors and with other educators. This is Arkansas was a very informative and enjoyable day for all involved.