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Annual French Award supports oral history project at Aztec High School

Michael Thornton, a history teacher at Aztec High School, has been awarded the 25th Annual French Award for the Improvement of Secondary Teaching.


933 award is the most prestigious external award given by New Mexico State University's College of Education.

Thornton plans to use the award money to conduct the Aztec Oral History Project, where students will participate in collecting information from senior adults in the Aztec community about its history and the history of the surrounding Animas River Valley. They will do this through interviews, recipes, papers, digital photography and digital video. The award money will go toward the purchase of a computer, projector, camera, speaker system, video monitor and camcorder for these purposes.

"This is an attempt to connect students with local history and Navajo history with more than just a textbook and a lecture," Thornton said. "Students will benefit because of their personal involvement rather than others' work."

The information collected will be organized into written notes, PowerPoint presentations, and a show that will include video, sound bites and photographs.

Students also will use the information to prepare for the National History Day competition, incorporating the Aztec research into the research paper, exhibit, performance and documentary phases of the competition.

Thornton has taught advanced placement U.S. history and regular U.S. history at Aztec High School for the past four years.

The French Award, founded in 1981 by Ralph and Josiah French of Las Cruces to honor the memory of their aunts, Fannie and Floy French, is given annually to encourage research and application of creative ideas for the improvement of secondary teaching. The French sisters devoted their lives to education.

Floy French, born in 1878, worked in library management in New Mexico and later as head librarian at Carnegie Library in Indiana. Fannie French, born in 1883, graduated from New Mexico State University in 1902 when it was the New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts. She organized the first Las Cruces High School and was its first principal. She later became an education teacher at Morton College in Illinois. Both women returned to Las Cruces after they retired.