Mill Creek Middle School teacher J.P. Frame may have won a state award for his dedication to teaching history, but aside from his students and colleagues, there are two people to whom he feels a special sense of gratitude:
His grandmothers, Sis and Dorothy.
“They taught me a lot about what it means to be an American,” said Frame, who learned last month he was the state’s Outstanding Teacher of American History Award, an honor he received through the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“They had a lot to do with me turning out the way I did,” he said of the two women who helped to raise him.
Frame, at one point, may not have seemed like college material, given his knack for questioning authority and getting into trouble in his younger years.
But through both grandmothers, who are now deceased, he learned the hard way about being responsible and owning up to his mistakes.
Case in point: he was one of three boys sent home from school in fourth grade for putting rubber snakes in girls’ desks.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Frame said, of his reputation for being a troublemaker all year long.
Frames’ buddies got to spend their day off riding bikes and eating pizza. Frame, on the other hand, got to spend his day with Grandma Sis, who didn’t put up with that kind of nonsense.
“She made me write ‘I will not disrupt class’ 100 times,” Frame said.
Grandma Sis was a lover of American history, and as the wife of a Navy serviceman, was highly patriotic. She regularly brought Frame history books she’d pick up at yard sales, and took him, as a youngster, on a trip back East. Frame got to see Valley Forge (the place where George Washington and the American revolutionary soldiers spent their first, bitter winter), Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the World Trade Center.
For Frame, those historical icons became a life experience, instead of just footnotes in a textbook.
“I’d been there and it was real for me,” he said.
Grandma Dorothy, on the other hand, was a tough old sharecropper from the South, and no fan of Big Government.
“She would often sit and rail about the government,” Frame said. “She taught me to question authority and to debate respectfully.”
She also taught him about hard work, getting him his first job at age 11.
So years later, when Frame finally did embark on that college career, it was his two grandmothers who kept him going, even when that going was difficult.
“They were the reason I was there,” Frame said. “Many nights when I wanted to quit, I would just think of what my grandmas would say and keep on going.”
Dorothy and Sis were foremost in Frame’s mind when, as a seasoned veteran of the classroom, he stepped up to the podium last month during an awards luncheon from the DAR and spoke, before accepting his award.
His speech, not surprisingly, described his grandmothers, as well as his love for introducing middle schoolers to the world of civics.
“I wanted to dedicate that honor to my grandmothers,” Frame said of his award. “They both saw me graduate from college.”
Talk to Frame for a few minutes and it becomes evident what teaching history means to him. It’s more than memorizing dates. It’s about understanding what it means to be an American.
“I think civic instruction is the most important class students can take,” Frame said. “I agree reading and math are absolutely necessary classes. But even if you can’t read or write, you still have a voice in government.
“Our system is only as good as the participants. With fewer and fewer people getting involved, it’s getting harder for our government to do what we need.”
Frame said his course is set up to emphasize civics, with historical events introduced as real-life outcomes of political-science concepts.
“We emphasize civics and pepper it with history throughout,” Frame said. “Once kids understand the reasoning behind the Declaration of Independence, then it makes more sense.”
Ditto that for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“The point is to have involved and engaged citizens,” Frame said. “Usually by the springtime when we wrap up the curriculum, I have students come up to me and say they understand the news, which is critical for them to be learning for themselves.”
For the past three years, Frame also has brought the “We The People” curriculum to Mill Creek Middle School. What started out as a competition between Frame’s seventh-grade classes to learn the most about the Constitution has now turned into a schoolwide contest for seventh graders.
Frame was a natural to receive the DAR award, said Gayle Butcher, a member of the Lakota Chapter of the DAR, which is the local branch of the group.
“He swept everybody off their feet – he spoke from the heart,” Butcher said, of Frame’s presentation competing for the award.
“With his speech, he became your brother,” she said. “He was so passionate and his words were so heartfelt about teaching. He brought tears to everyone’s eyes.
“These students he’s teaching are so lucky– he has a passion about it.”
Butcher said Frame’s nomination also was an honor for the Lakota Chapter, as it was the first they had ever done. They completed a healthy amount of paperwork nominating Frame, through their regent Hilda Merryhew.
“It’s a great honor, as far as our chapter is concerned, to get such an award,” Butcher said.
Frame, for his part, is just going to keep on teaching.
Watching his students develop as citizens over each school year is an ever-fascinating process to him.
“For at least 182 days, I had a hand in it,” he said.
Click here to learn more about We the People.
Click here to learn more about the Lakota Chapter of the DAR.