Glebe teacher's WW II website earns national award

An Ottawa history teacher has picked up a national award for her hyperlocal approach to teaching about the Second World War.

Class project teaches about students that served and died

An Ottawa history teacher has picked up a national award for her hyperlocal approach to teaching about the Second World War.

Rachel Collishaw is a Grade 10 Canadian history teacher at Glebe Collegiate Institute who, for the last three years, has given out war records of the approximately 200 Glebe students who died in the war.

Students then gather information about where the students lived, when they enlisted and even details on hobbies from old yearbooks, all posted to a public website.

"They don't really get the national picture unless they have a local connection,” Collishaw said Friday.

“For me this project and everything I'm doing is really about engaging the kids, showing them that history can be fun and relevant."

Site includes address, hobbies

Students Josh Routh and Ruben Saikaley said they just got their hands on former student James R. Millar’s records the day before.

The start of their work, which will eventually end up online, revealed he was born in Alberta, lived at 74 Third Avenue and died at sea before reaching Europe.

Ruben Saikaley, left, and Josh Routh show records they're using to fill their class website. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"Someone who actually participated in World War Two went to Glebe [Collegiate Institute], in the same school, walked the same places I walked,” Routh said.

“It's neat how Glebe [Collegiate Institute] has that kind of history."

Collishaw said she got the idea from Smiths Falls teacher Blake Seward at a workshop and started with First World War records from Lisgar Collegiate six or seven years ago, since her school opened in 1922.

Once the Second World War files became public from Library and Archives Canada after 70 years, she gathers them and hands them out in class, helping students learn more about the names on two large plaques at the school’s main entrance.

Rachel Collishaw has been a teacher for 16 years, 14 of them at Glebe Collegoate Institute. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"It was really exciting (the day before) to see how seriously they took it right away and how they get immediately attached to their soldier, in the five minutes they started looking at it yesterday kids were like 'No no, I don't want to give it back, can I have this guy tomorrow, I want to make sure I get this guy,'” she said.

“One of the students even took their's home."

She said once the website is filled, she wants to look at ways to tell the post-war story of the school.

She said she also wants members of the public to add information on those former students to help fill in more of their history.

One of seven Governor-General's award winners

For her efforts, Collishaw is one of seven teachers to be awarded the Governor-General’s History Award for Excellence in Teaching.

The award includes $2,500 for her, $1,000 for the school and a trip next summer.

“I know last year’s Governor-General’s winners did a battlefields tour of France… I’ve never been overseas to see that,” she said.

The awards will be given out at Rideau Hall on Nov. 19.

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