October 23, 2017

Alumnae named 2017 Oregon Social Studies Elementary Teachers of the Year

Abby Rotwein and Elissa Dingus, MAT ’12 and MAT ’11, have been named the 2017 Oregon Social Studies Elementary Teachers of the Year
  • Abby Rotwein (L) and Elissa Dingus (R)

Abby Rotwein and Elissa Dingus, MAT ’12 and MAT ’11, have been named the 2017 Oregon Social Studies Elementary Teachers of the Year. Awarded by the Oregon Council for the Social Studies (OCSS), the annual distinction honors teachers who:

  • Develop and use instructional materials creatively and effectively.
  • Incorporate innovative and effective instructional strategies.
  • Foster interaction and communication between students and members of the community and state, and utilize community resources in the classroom.
  • Foster a spirit of inquiry and the development of skills in students of acquiring, processing, and using information necessary for decision-making and active citizenship.
  • Show evidence of professional involvement through activities such as workshops, committees, curriculum development, and association activities.

Abby and Elissa were co-nominated for the prestigious award after developing and implementing an expanded social studies curriculum in response to the current curriculum’s overwhelming focus on Westward Expansion.

“Oregon’s 4th grade social studies curriculum is solely focused on the state of Oregon,” explained Abby. “But we were dismayed to find out that the major emphasis of the year was on Westward Expansion, culminating with a three-month unit on the Oregon Trail. We weren’t satisfied with the story the curriculum was telling.”

Wanting to present a more inclusive view of Oregon’s history, the two teachers decided to focus on Japanese American Incarceration. They formed a partnership with the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, a Japanese American history museum in Portland charged with the preservation and sharing of the history and culture of the Japanese American community, from which they received primary and secondary sources for information and support for their ideas. At the culmination of their unit, Abby and Elissa invited other students and families in to celebrate the class’s learning and to honor the history of Japanese Americans in the state. The students all shared with the assembled group why they felt that history was important to learn and why it still matters today.  

“We had several parents become emotional and comment on how much the unit had impacted them and their children,” Abby said. “We are looking forward to teaching it again this spring with our new group of students.”

Both Abby and Elissa say their inspiration started at Lewis & Clark.

Dr. Linda Griffin and Dr. Cindi Swingen were mentors that encouraged us not to accept the teaching status quo. Dr. Swingen shared stories of standing up against unfair practices and Dr. Griffin supported us to speak our minds and made us feel that our ideas were valuable.”


Lewis & Clark’s teacher education programs are grounded in social justice principles and empower candidates to address issues of equity in schools. More information about programs for preservice and inservice teachers can be found on our website.