Primary Source Celebrating 25 Years of Teaching Teachers About the World

Print More
An educator speaks with children during a Primary Source Study Tour of China.

Primary Source

An educator speaks with children during a Primary Source Study Tour of China.

Teachers spread their knowledge to their students but someone has to teach the educators, and for areas such as global issues and cultural understanding Watertown-based Primary Source steps in to provide the professional development .

The group celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2014, and the Primary Source seeks to expand its influence beyond the Boston area and New England to teachers across the country.

The non-profit group started in Cambridge when the founders Anna Roelofs and Anne Watt saw something missing from the curriculum, said Primary Source Executive Director Julia de la Torre.

“From our founding we have noticed a real gap in the curriculum for global understanding,” said Executive Director Julia de la Torre.

The group puts on seminars and courses lead by college professors and other experts to educators in grades K-12 at its offices on Walnut Street or other spots around the Boston area. The group has partnerships with more than 60 school districts (including Watertown) and independent schools to train teachers.

They work not only with history and social studies teachers, but also world language teachers, English teachers and even math and science instructors.

The goal is not to teach them about the entire globe or even everything about a particular culture, de la Torre said.

“There is no way every teacher and every student can know about everywhere, but we can help them think critically about different cultures and get beyond the stereotypes,” de la Torre said.

Teachers can then pass on skills that their students will find useful in the work world, Primary Source Development Director Judy Katz said.

“Kids are competing in a globalized world, not just with other students from around the country,” Katz said. “In order to compete and work they will need to be able to collaborate with people from around the world.”

Educators in a Primary Source program about India speak over Skype with educators in India.

Primary Source

Educators in a Primary Source program about India speak over Skype with educators in India.

Over a quarter century, Primary Source has worked with about 20,000 K-12 teachers, taken about 1,300 educators on study tours and estimate that they have impacted more than 1 million students, de la Torre said.

One such teacher was name the 2014 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Jeff Shea of Belmont High School credits a Primary Source course for helping put together his global leadership class, according to Sue Cuyler, director of marketing and communications at Primary Source.

“The course that Jeff Shea took is one of our core courses – global understanding,” Cuyler said. “He took the course a few years ago and it help him teach the course he is known for.”

At first, Primary Source focused mainly on China and African-American history and culture, Katz said. After Sept. 11, 2001, additional courses on the Middle East were added, and courses on Latin American have also been added.

Not all the seminars are taught in the classroom. The group runs overseas trips so teachers can get a deeper understanding about the culture they are studying.

Primary Source has taken about 1,300 educators on trips to China, Japan, Ghana and other places. Teachers also take trips closer to home.

“We make use of the resources we have in Watertown,” de la Torre said. “When we have a course on the Middle East we have taken teachers to various Middle Eastern markets so they can speak to shop owners and learn about their cultures.”

Most teachers taking courses at Primary Source come from Eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, so they can attend courses in person. The group also offers remote courses which teachers can take online, according to de la Torre, who said that is a way to reach teachers across the nation and give them the same professional training.

Primary Source will celebrate its 25th anniversary with an event on Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. Primary Source seeks attendees and sponsors for the event. For ticket information go to click here. More information on Primary Source can be found at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *