She’ll walk in footsteps of a soldier, return with lesson for students

Belleville East High School teacher Katie Hoerner will participate in a prestigious program called “Understanding Sacrifice.”
Belleville East High School teacher Katie Hoerner will participate in a prestigious program called “Understanding Sacrifice.”

A Belleville East High School educator will take a once-in-a-lifetime trip next summer — and students around the world will benefit from it.

Katie Hoerner, department chair and social studies teacher, is one of just 18 middle and high school educators chosen to participate in a prestigious program called “Understanding Sacrifice.” The teachers will travel to San Francisco, Honolulu and Manila, Philippines, in July 2017 to conduct in-depth research into the lives of World War II’s fallen soldiers.

Hoerner will return to Belleville with an original lesson plan on WWII inspired by her journey walking “in the footsteps of history,” according to a news release from National History Day, a non-profit education organization. That lesson plan could be used by teachers across the globe — for free — through the program’s website,, starting in November 2017. The goal is to reinvigorate the teaching and learning about WWII in those classrooms.

Though the lessons will revolve around significant historical events, they will be created for more than history classes. In the last two years that the program has existed, lessons have also been designed for science, art, math and language arts classes. Some examples are: “Design a Battle Monument,” an activity for an art class, and “#Tweeting the Air War Against the Nazis,” a technology-dependent activity that brings social media platform Twitter into the classroom.

Hoerner will choose the soldier whose life she would like to study this November.

“I hope to bring my enthusiasm, creativity and passion for learning to the group,” Hoerner said. “I look forward to collaborating with fellow teachers on new lesson plan ideas and gaining a greater understanding of World War II in the Pacific and the Americans who served there.”

She and the other teachers will also give eulogies at the soldiers’ graves and memorials with what they learn. All of the soldiers are buried or memorialized at a cemetery operated by the American Battle Monuments Commission or the National Cemetery Administration in San Francisco, Honolulu or Manila.

“Understanding Sacrifice” is a partnership between National History Day, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and the National Cemetery Administration. The teachers’ travels, books and other research materials are paid for; They are responsible for personal expenses.

Cathy Gorn, executive director of National History Day, called the program “highly competitive.” This year, more than 150 educators applied to be involved.

“... Mrs. Hoerner should be proud to be accepted,” Gorn said. “I know she will use this once-in-a-lifetime journey to create a superb lesson plan.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes