John Zingale of iTech Prep finalist for Gilder Lehrman Institute national award
VANCOUVER — John Zingale started loving the past, long before he ever thought about being a teacher of history.
In high school, Zingale found a passion for current events and how they connect and relate to history while under the tutelage of his out-of-the-box thinking history teacher, John Dryden.
In Dryden’s class, Zingale learned that while textbooks are helpful, you have to get your hands dirty. You have to watch the news. You have to read books. You have to dig into history. You have to find what interests you and run with it.
Zingale ran with it.
He obtained a bachelors in history from Northern Illinois University. He wanted to go into teaching. It was 2002. Unfortunately, the 9/11 attacks had just happened, and the economy was not doing so hot. Zingale bided his time, and climbed the ladder of grocery retail; soon becoming a manager.
After 16 years in management, and a move to the Pacific Northwest for the career, it was time to try out that dream of teaching history. He quit his job, and started working toward his master’s. His wife Anna cheered him on and supported them both.
While studying for his master’s, Zingale was allowed to choose what grade level he wanted to teach. He chose middle school. Not many did, but he did. He thought they might be fun. As far as he is concerned, he was right.
Zingale graduated with a master’s degree in teaching from the University of Portland, and soon after landed a job with the Vancouver School District at iTech Preparatory Middle School in Bagley Downs.
He started teaching history. Outside the box history. He ran with it. And never looked back.
“I’m so excited and pumped, but it’s a little surreal too, because I just feel like I’m doing what I love,” he said.
Zingale recently won the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s Washington State History Teacher of the Year award. Now, he is one of 10 finalists for the institute’s National History Teacher of the Year, and a prize of $10,000.
Zingale was nominated, and won, largely because of the inventive and interactive teaching methods he has implemented in the last several years. iTech is a project based learning school, which allowed Zingale to pursue field trips, large team projects and new technologies in the classroom.
At one point, Zingale was able to bring Holocasut survivors as well as Japanese American survivors of the concentration camps into the class to speak with students about their experiences during World War II.
“We want them hearing the stories firsthand, and being the historians, amateur historians,” he said. “The kids, you know, they take a lot of pride in the work that they do for us here. And as they should.”
On multiple occasions, Zingale has had the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. with his students, and show them much of the national history up close that they had only read about up to then.
“We’re standing in Independence Hall where the Declaration and the Constitution were signed, and the next day, we get to go to the National Archives and actually see them,” he said. “I had one of the girls, she looks at me, we’re standing in the rotunda looking at this stuff, and she goes, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do here in the city, but I’m going to do something.’”
“My job is to just inspire kids and show them the connection between life and why it’s important to know history so that you can make more informed decisions later on,” he said.
His class has also traveled to Fort Vancouver to help create a virtual reality program of the entire historic site. This is now live online, and allows anyone in the world to tour the Fort via Google Cardboard or VR goggles.
Archeological artifacts found at the Fort, where also scanned by Zingale’s students, and then used to create 3D models on their interactive website and app to make a virtual museum. Partnering with Youth Quest in Virginia, the students also had the artifacts 3D printed with color plastic, so the artifacts could be examined safely in the classroom anytime.
“They brought in the real artifacts, our kids were digital archaeologists, and digital curators, of the history,” he said. “That’s how you can infuse technology and show kids that, you know, what, here’s this new brand new thing, like the Smithsonian is doing this type of this type of work.”
The project for which Zingale is, perhaps, best known, however, is his integration of the National History Day team projects with his students.
“It’s this real intense inquiry project, every year, there’s a different theme,” he said. “Kids can work together, either individually or in teams to build a museum exhibit a website, a documentary, they can write a paper, or they can do a play or performance. But it’s all based around this theme.”
This year past school year, a theme of “Triumph and Tragedy” was handed to Zingale’s students. Both his teams created detailed museum exhibits. One focused on “Taming The Jungle: The Fight for Clean Food,” while the other centered around “Pride Over Principle: The Nazis Behind NASA.”
Both teams received recognition at the Washington State History Day, and the second traveled to Maryland for the National History Day event after receiving the senior group exhibit at home.
Zingale advised both teams, and says he is even more excited for this coming school year competition, with a theme of “Breaking Barriers.” iTech students will focus on Washington state historic figures who broke barriers and shaped the present.
“Well, it’s really a hands on and self motivated approach,” said Chinook Elementary teacher Jennifer Flores, who nominated John for the award after working with him during a workshop. “The kids are finding what they’re curious about, and they’re diving deeper and creating these amazing pieces of work. I think that putting it in their hands, and giving them the opportunity to really decide what they think is important.”
“It makes their learning so much more enriched, and it helps them to sort of process what history is all about.”
Zingale continues to express his gratitude for his fellow teachers, and his family, for their support and for pouring into him through his years of teaching that have led to this moment.
“John’s definitely not the teacher that just does the bare minimum,” said Anna Zingale, John’s wife. “He truly does work incredibly hard. and, I mean, he has these amazing ideas. I think the great thing about him is he actually figures out ways to get them to happen. It’s really, I think, nice for him to receive that recognition.”
The 10 finalists will be considered and the winner will be announced on Sept. 10. There will be a winner’s ceremony in New York this October.
“I literally love everything that I do,” he said. “Like, I went out and did a little bit of the curriculum stuff, where I was a little bit less in the classroom, and I just, I didn’t care for it as much. I just I love being around the kids. They fuel me.”