Teacher, Historian Makes History Come Alive for Seniors


(Thursday, May 10, 2007 8:31 PM EDT)

For local historian and Washington-Lee High School social studies teacher Les Albers, history isn't just a subject he teaches in school. It's a way for him to get creative, have fun and reach out to the community.

Albers said he “always had a bug for history” growing up in Long Island. He majored in 20th-century American history at Hofstra University.

In 1992, Albers was approached by Arlington's senior centers to teach a summer's worth of history classes, he leapt at the opportunity.

Now, he makes up to eight history presentations a year across the county in Arlington's senior centers, covering topics such as the Civil War, World War II and the military through the ages.

Although Albers gives his presentations solo, the 20-year U.S. Army veteran's lectures are no small production. He uses period music, toys and movies of the times, along with costumes and displays, to spice things up.

In one of his more light-hearted presentations, he taught the history of Robin Hood, and had the seniors get dressed in costume and act out scenes. A pair of women in their 80s even tried their hand at sword fighting!

“I try to make it as fun as possible, and get the seniors to interact as much as I can,” he said in a recent interview. “To watch 70- and 80-year-olds use toys they had when they were children is just fantastic.”

Albers has taught at Washington-Lee for 14 years, and he said he uses his high school classroom as a training ground for what he teaches at the senior centers, and vice versa.

Over the years, Albers has developed a band of “groupies” and he loves bringing his presentations to them and all the other seniors.

“Since I was born in the 1950s, these are the people I grew up with. These are my parents,” he said. “I want to give back [to them]. They made this country.”

This year is a particularly exciting year for Albers because of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. He has a brand new multi-media presentation all about colonial life that he will bring to senior centers throughout May.

He has ordered a helmet, historically accurate boots and a costume for the occasion. He spends between $100 and $150 on his costumes and props for each of his historical productions.

Albers and his wife, Julie, the director of the Aurora Hills senior center, have an ongoing joke that his ulterior motive for giving presentations is that he wants to buy more toys and costumes.

Albers also takes seniors on trips to historical sites, is a member of the American Legion and participates in World War II reenactments - all activities that he hopes give back to the senior community.

Historian Les Albers had one group of Arlington seniors dress up as Robin Hood for a presentation.

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