Saturday Academies of American History


Saturday Academies of American History

The Gilder Lehrman Institute
19 West 44th Street
Suite 500
New York, NY 10036
Phone: 646.366.9666
Fax: 646.366.9669

Focus: History, Humanities

Annual Number Participating: 4200

Ages: High School

Annual Budget: $523,400.00

Partners: Algiers Charter Schools Association, Brooklyn Historical Society, Museum of the City of New York, Rutgers University

Funders: Charina Foundation, Charles Hayden Foundation, Ravenel and Elizabeth Curry Foundation, The Altman Foundation

At 23 sites across the country, middle and high school students are voluntarily going to school on Saturdays to take classes in American history. But this is not the textbook-based, test-focused, broad overview of history offered in so many middle or high school classrooms. It’s history that’s hands-on, in-depth, and filled with discovery. It’s history that is exciting!

Welcome to the Saturday Academies of American History, a program created by The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The New York-based institute, whose mission is to encourage the “study and love of American history,” launched its Saturday Academies program in 2005 to help address “the lack of time, attention, and resources allocated to teaching American history in schools,” explains Executive Director Lesley Herrmann. Most of the Saturday Academies take place in lower-income, urban communities, where students tend to have fewer enrichment opportunities than those in more affluent areas.

To attract students, the institute identifies popular teachers and works with them to create a curriculum that’s engaging and relevant. Students participating in a Saturday course at the Museum of the City of New York, which draws many students from Spanish Harlem, took field trips to public housing developments to examine the history and design of public housing and its impact on neighborhoods and residents. Students in Washington, DC, studied the Constitution, learning how it applies to efforts to censor song lyrics or ban NBA players’ tattoos. In other locations, students have examined the roots of jazz, identified historical inaccuracies in Hollywood films, and considered how comics reflect culture.

About 175 students attend each Academy, where they may take two free classes (including SAT prep classes) each semester. Although there are no tests or homework, students sharpen research and critical-thinking skills by poring over primary documents, debating issues, and completing writing and art activities. Through a relaxed but stimulating environment, this humanities-focused curriculum helps engage young people in learning. As one student proclaimed, “You get to learn so much about American history without the pressures of homework and tests. It really is the best way to learn.”

In several heavily immigrant neighborhoods, some parents even tag along, joining their children in deepening their understanding of the history of their adopted land.