As it turns out, history has been kind to Kevin Wagner.
The Carlisle High School history department chair is one of only 18 middle and high school teachers from across the U.S. selected to participate in Understanding Sacrifice, sponsored in part by National History Day, a nonprofit education organization based in Maryland.
In November, participating educators will select an American fallen hero who is buried or memorialized at an American Battle Missions Commission or National Cemetery Association cemetery in San Francisco, Honolulu or Manila. Participants then will conduct in-depth research on their fallen hero, travelling to those locations in July 2017 to gain a better understanding of America’s sacrifice in World War II.
“I like to show my students that I’m a lifelong learner. My students always joke to me, ‘Don’t you ever stop?’ I’m not a teacher who takes summers off,” said Wagner, who’s in his 20th year of teaching.
The Understanding Sacrifice program also is sponsored by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, the American Battle Monuments Commission and the National Cemetery Association, according to a news release issued by National History Day. This year’s program focuses on World War II in the Pacific.
“History has always been a passion of mine. I always felt kind of gypped that no one in my family served in a major war. I always felt that was something I missed. World War II has such a big affect on the U.S. It was a defining moment in history,” said Wagner, of Carlisle.
Wagner said he’s currently in the process of deciding which local fallen to research. The project involves him presenting a eulogy at the grave or memorial of his fallen hero and developing lesson plans for his students based on the experience. He currently teaches AP U.S. history to Carlisle 11th- and 12-graders and an AP seminar.
“There’s a constant fresh perspective that young people bring to history,” Wagner said. “They don’t come with all the biases and weights like adults sometimes do. Every day (of teaching) is different. I find it very easy. Young people are very open-minded.”
This is the third year of Understanding Sacrifice, which previously took teachers to northern and southern Europe. For 2011, he traveled to France with Carlisle class of 2012 graduate Sam Spare as part of the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute. The duo traced the history World War II veteran William T. McCabe, who graduated from Carlisle High School in 1941.
“National History Day strives to connect students to the past, and one of the best points of contact with any student is their teacher. This program is highly competitive and Mr. Wagner should be proud to be accepted,” said Cathy Gorn, National History Day’s executive director.
Wagner has been involved with National History Day for 15 years. He said he’s excited that this year’s Sacrifice program is focusing on World War II’s Pacific Theater. “Sometimes the Pacific Theater gets overlooked,” Wagner said.
Wagner’s selection for the program apparently comes as no surprise to Carlisle Area School District administrators.
“Kevin Wagner is a strong social studies teacher and program chair who continually seeks out new and distinct ways to improve the quality of social studies instruction and student learning,” said Karen Quinn, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction. “He is well-respected by his students and professional staff as an innovator in the area of social studies. He is always looking for ways to improve the quality of his instruction and always finds unique ways to motivate students and staff.”
This isn’t the first accolade Wagner has received during his 20 years of teaching. In 2014, he was chosen as the Gilder Lehrman History Teacher of the Year for Pennsylvania, according to Sentinel archives.
Also in 2014, Wagner was selected for the Thomas W. Holtzman Jr. Educational Leader Award; and the Patricia Behring Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Award, according to Messiah College’s website. Wagner is a Messiah alumnus.
“I’ve been blessed to receive many state and federal awards,” Wagner said.
“Kevin truly believes that the study of our nation’s history and the people who shaped our history need to be honored and remembered for generations to come,” Quinn said. “We are all proud of Kevin’s achievements and this latest honor in being selected to participate in Understanding Sacrifice.”