By Amy Wenk

The Southern Center for International Studies (SCIS) is partnering with the Georgia Department of Education to train sixth- and seventh-grade teachers in social studies.

The initiative, starting in August, is a response to the new curriculum being instituted for those grades and disappointing social studies scores on this year’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCTs). After 70 percent to 80 percent of sixth- and seventh-graders failed the social studies CRCTs, the state invalidated the scores.

“What’s happening in Georgia is not unique because the standards by which school administrators and teachers are judged are the results of the test scores of their students in reading, math and science, not social studies,” said Peter White, the founding president of the SCIS, which is in Buckhead on West Paces Ferry Road. “Assets are being redeployed out of social studies into these other disciplines. This situation for social studies is getting more and more difficult.”

The Education Department will use free materials from the center in workshops training teachers to improve the situation.

Bill Crenshaw, the social studies program manager for the state, said the Education Department will hold 22 to 24 training sessions, reaching about 3,000 teachers. Each middle school can send up to four sixth-grade and four seventh-grade teachers for the training.

Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Joe Maguno said 20 teachers from the system will participate in the workshops. They will have their own training session.

Around 152 teachers from Fulton County Schools will attend the training sessions, according to system spokeswoman Susan Hale,

“I think the opportunity for teachers to get together and really talk about the standards and ask questions to understand what they mean will go a long way towards improving sixth- and seventh-grade social studies,” Crenshaw said.

The state held training last year to acquaint teachers with the new curriculum, which places the study of Europe and Latin America in sixth grade and Africa, the Middle East and Asia in the seventh grade. The focus then was on the new Georgia Performance Standards, which are being revised again this year, and the methodology. This year, the training will include content, not only standards and objectives.

“There are more and more teachers at the middle school level for whom social studies is not their first and major area,” said Dale Tyree, a retired 32-year social studies teacher. “For example, most middle schools used to have a four-man team, one for each course. Some school systems have had to move back to three-man teams. With the emphasis on math and language arts, you might have a math teacher who is teaching social studies. They have a problem because they don’t have that much of a background.”

Tyree taught at North Springs and Riverwood high schools. He now assists the SCIS will its social studies initiatives.

“We are giving technical advice at this point,” Tyree said. “The state department will have their own trainers. … They will be actually conducting the workshops this year.”

The training will start at the end of August and run through October. Each session will last two days.

The materials will come from the center’s “The World in Transition” series, an eight-part course that covers various regions of the world. The SCIS began producing the books and accompanying videos in 1991 at the request of state and country curriculum coordinators.

“We get experts from around the world to write the chapters,” White said. “They cover the economics, politics, religion and culture of a region of the world.”

Another benefit of the “The World in Transition” is that the books incorporate various styles of learning.

“You use videotapes for part of it,” said Julia White, the SCIS co-founder and vice president, who is the project director and producer of “The World in Transition.” “You do interactive activities where students are working together in groups. It is just very, very different.

“I think these teachers will really benefit. All the materials are given to them. No teacher has to put out a penny.”

The SCIS hopes the state General Assembly will pick up the program and assist with funding.

“I wish that the Georgia legislature and the governor would be very supportive of the effort,” Julia White said. “What I would really like is for all the money that the Southern Center raises to have it matched by the state of Georgia. If we could do that, then that would encourage corporations and foundations to give money.”