District officials said they are betting the grant will be a boost to standardized test scores. In the last two years, Glendale students have shown consistent growth on the state STAR tests, according to the most recent data at the Department of Education.
In eighth-grade history, for example, 60% of students tested at or above the benchmark in 2009, up from 56% the year before. California has among the toughest academic standards in the nation, officials said.
"Everything we learn we take back into the classroom and it enhances our student's historical experience," Witt said. "[There's] a rise in our kids test scores. That's what we've been seeing in the social science area."
Professional development is often one of the first cuts during budget crises. That Glendale Unified continues to win grant money is a piece of stability for teachers and students, said Vickie Atikian Aviles, assistant director of professional development, special projects and intercultural education.
"Being able to bring in a grant like this where we can provide meaningful professional development is exciting for us," she said. "It's so important to keep that for teachers so they can continue to grow and increase their knowledge and bring that into the classroom."
The grant will center on the American West, with a particular emphasis on the San Fernando Valley, Witt said. The focus is one way to connect lessons to the lives of students, which is typically among the most effective instructional tricks, Witt said.
"It's not about a bunch of old dead guys," she said. "Frequently, we bring oral histories into the classroom, primary source documents and other types of reality, or hands-on. That's one of the ways we want to make it personal."