Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.” These words, which hang in Phil Caskey’s social studies classroom, have inspired and shaped his career as an educator at University High School in Morgantown, W.Va.
Caskey, who left a long career as a sports information director at WVU to pursue teaching, integrates experiential learning into every facet of his work as a social studies educator. His decision to switch careers in 2010 was prompted not only by his love for history, but also by his desire to give back.
“I have a passion for the social studies and for imparting that knowledge onto others,” Caskey said. “I had a lot of really good teachers who helped me out; it was a ‘pay it forward’ moment. The chance to give back, do some good and help out the young minds of our future was something very appealing to me.”
A native of Martinsburg, W.Va., Caskey grew up just 13 minutes from Antietam National Battlefield, one hour from Gettysburg National Military Park and an hour-and-a-half from the site of the Battle of First Manassas. From a young age, Caskey was a Civil War buff who understood the significance of the Civil War for the State and the nation.
“I think it certainly helped growing in a history-rich, tradition-rich area like Martinsburg,” Caskey said. “West Virginia is state created from the Civil War; we were born from battle. It’s important that we tell the story of how we got here.”
After completing CEHS’ master of arts in certification program in 2012, Caskey found his way to his current position at University High School, where his experiential approach to learning history quickly gained popularity with students.
“Notes, PowerPoints and worksheets have a place, but I prefer a hands-on approach with experiential learning,” Caskey said. “History can be incredibly boring if it’s presented the wrong way.”
Caskey’s most popular class is an elective called Civil War Studies, a course that he built from scratch. For the course, students have the opportunity to paint toy soldiers, simulate Civil War battles and participate in daytrips to Civil War landmarks such as Antietam National Battlefield and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. For his work in creating and implementing this course, Caskey was selected as the 2016 Civil War Trust Teacher of the Year.
In order to reach students who weren’t able to participate in the trips, Caskey invited a group of 30 Civil War reenactors to University High School to simulate a Civil War encampment in April 2017. The reenactment included canons, a medical tent and mock drills.
“I wanted to get people here immersed in the culture of how the Civil War shaped who we are as West Virginians,” Caskey said. “It was extremely well received.”
In recognition of the work he does to bring history to life for his students, Caskey was nominated and selected as the 2017 Daughters of the American Revolution West Virginia State Social Studies Teacher of the Year. For Caskey, recognition like this reaffirms his decision to become a teacher.
“I’m incredibly proud to be a Mountaineer and incredibly proud to have gone to WVU for my master’s degree through the College of Education and Human Services,” Caseky said. “It’s been a blessing, this whole journey. The awards reinforce that I’m doing the right thing by myself and by my students.”