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Learning About the Transcontinental Railroad by Travel PD

Curious about a teacher travel tour to learn about history in the U.S.?

Teaching Traveling: Please welcome educator Julia Vaughan to inspire and assist us with her story. Julia, tell us a bit about your background.

Julia: I currently teach in Asheville North Carolina and am the Academic Support Coordinator for a small private school. With 21 years of experience, I have taught kindergarten through community college in both public and private schools. 

I love teaching and being a lifelong learner. I think both are so intricately related and are important for us to continue to grow personally and professionally. 

Julia Overlooks Donner Pass and the site for the passage of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
Julia Overlooks Donner Pass and the site for the passage of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

TT: Wonderful! Tell us about your most recent teacher travels.

J: The summer of 2019, I travelled with NEH (the National Endowment for the Humanities) and the UC History Project to Sacramento where I learned about the 150 anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad.

This learning opportunity was so well organized. I really learned how to utilize primary sources and apply different learning strategies across the curriculum

We took several field trips and saw the original tunnels and walls built by the Chinese workers for the Pacific Railroad. It was an amazing opportunity to learn in the field and see how history, literature, and art come together. 

The Union Pacific Train.
The Union Pacific Train.

TT: What a phenomenal-sounding educational tour! Tell us one moment from your Transcontinental Railroad PD that was particularly powerful.

J: That summer, I was particularly moved when learning about the Chinese workers. When one thinks of the marginalized people (such as the Irish, Native Americans and Chinese) in American history, it is eye-opening.

There have been such tremendous gains in our history and infrastructure, but at the expense of others. I really hope we begin to learn from this history and create wonderful innovations and systems while empowering other people. 

The tunnel of the TCRR in the Sierra Nevadas.
The tunnel of the TCRR in the Sierra Nevadas.

TT: So true. How do you find and fund your travel?

J: My first travel opportunity was a surprise funding opportunity through the county where I was teaching; I learned that opportunity was not unique and have discovered opportunities in blogs such as these and through peers. I have been awarded and accepted four teacher grant opportunities for professional development that involve travel.

While I have been awarded other opportunities, I relish the summers with my children and typically am only willing to spend a week away from my children and have found that programs like the National Endowment of Humanities and Gilder Lehrman are excellent ways to afford learning opportunities in the field. 

Fragments of a tea cup and nails left by Chinese workers.
Fragments of a tea cup and nails left by Chinese workers.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and as a person?

J: Not only has traveling helped broaden my worldview and perspective, I have learned so very much personally and professionally in these opportunities. This learning made me a more inspired and enthusiastic teacher, it has increased my knowledge and understanding. 

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel?

J: My advice to other teachers is to seek travel through professional development opportunities. There are so many travel grants and wonderful organizations who support teacher travel through scholarships and PD funding.

Nothing beats learning in the field. You may get turned down initially, but the reward is so worth the effort. It will change the lens with which you see the world!

An incredible architectural feat, this Chinese wall which held the train, was built over 150 years ago.
An incredible architectural feat, this Chinese wall which held the train, was built over 150 years ago.

TT: Thanks so much, Julia! Readers, what other questions or comments do you have about this Transcontinental Railroad PD, teacher travel grants, and more?

Leading teen discussion groups.
Discussion Topics for Teens: "This Teenage Life" Resources
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Erica Kennedy

Thursday 1st of April 2021

Hi! Can I get the list of field trip sites that you visited for this PD? Thank you in advance!

Julia Vaughan

Friday 2nd of April 2021

@Erica Kennedy, The list of field trip sites included, but were not limited to, the following: UC Davis, original tunnels in Donner State park, the Donner memorial museum, Sierra club, California State Railroad Museum, Scaremento History Museum, the Crocker Art Museum, and the Leland Stanford Mansion.

Thank you for this inquiry!

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