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Shelby Anderson – LBHS history teacher (and history princess) sparks inspiration

By DIANNE RUSSELL

A self-proclaimed history princess, Laguna Beach High School (LBHS) history teacher Shelby Anderson came very close to her dream of becoming a Disneyland princess by being selected as one of the winners of the Walt Disney 100th anniversary Teacher Celebration. Although not considered royalty, many parents and students think teachers belong in that sacred realm.

shelby anderson 100 teachers

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Courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Walt Disney 100th Anniversary Teacher Celebration

Anderson was invited – as one of 100 exceptional teachers who reflect the creativity and imagination of Walt Disney – to attend a one-of-a-kind teacher event. Out of the more than 7,900 applicants, Anderson was among the 100 selected to be treated to a four-day, three-night stay at the Disneyland Resort to experience the Disney 100 celebration. An added bonus was a chance to visit the Disney Imagination Campus workshops and offerings.

“I am honored to be recognized by the Walt Disney Company and appreciative that I have the support of my school and colleagues to be able to provide creative and imaginative opportunities for my students to learn,” Anderson said. “I am further honored to represent my school and community.”

shelby anderson closeup

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Shelby Anderson in her history classroom at LBHS, where she teaches both freshmen and juniors

Anderson explained the application process, “In order to be recognized for this honor, I had to write an essay highlighting ‘Imagination and curiosity as powerful problem-solving tools and describe example(s) where I brought wonder, creativity and imagination to life in my curriculum and inspired my student(s) in new ways.’”

A section excerpted from her essay reveals important insights in her teaching process, “Developing empathetic, resilient, and innovative members of society are values that I provide my high school students opportunities for, and one unit where I have fostered these character traits is studying World War II. This period of history is one that provides many stories for my students to connect with and find inspiration from everyday heroes who overcame some of America’s biggest challenges.”

There’s no doubt that in her classroom, creativity and imagination run wild. Anderson employs WWII history reenactments, using authentic uniforms and artifacts, to engage her students. (Aside from her history gig at LBHS, she’s also a coach for Mock Trials).

The reenactments started with her own personal desire for a hobby. She saw the SoCal WAC group on Instagram and was interested. “I’ve always loved to dress up,” she said. “I love to go to estate sales searching for vintage clothes and artifacts, it’s like a treasure hunt.”

shelby anderson in tent

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Courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Anderson in a reenactment at an event

Her application essay stated, “I have been required to be resourceful and innovative to keep my students engaged during the COVID-19 Pandemic. As a member of The Historical Unit of Southern California (HUSC), I am a reenactor with the Women’s Army Corps and seek to educate the public on American history through the use of original uniforms and artifacts. I brought this passion to my students by hosting a variety of Zoom extra credit events where students would get to interact with World War I and World War II reenactors and see history as close to first-hand as possible. Through these events, students got to learn about conditions for soldiers, home front experiences, uniforms and tools, and even take a virtual ride in a WWII Willy’s Jeep.”

As students slowly returned to school, Anderson still sought to make her classes as interactive as possible. “When we were able to return to the classroom, I invited other members of our reenactment group to speak to our students about the Civil War and its own pandemic of the Spanish flu. My female reenactors spoke to students about Civil war dress (including showing the students and applying all the layers of petticoats and dress to me).”

As more and more venues opened up as the pandemic calmed down, Anderson worked to develop relationships with museums and venues in the area and provide opportunities for students to engage with the HUSC’s reenactors in real life. She has since taken on a board position with the nonprofit and is their Education Outreach coordinator.

“Service is close to my heart. If I hadn’t become a teacher, I might have gone into social work or nonprofit management,” she said.

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shelby anderson dresses

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Courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Anderson (in the middle) wears clothes, including a corset, worn around the time of the Temperance Movement

Anderson also worked to develop her own collection of original artifacts that she displays in her classroom and created a mini-museum. “I preserve artifacts like newspapers, magazines and other items so that students can touch, feel and examine the artifacts, and use them as primary sources in their learning. When it comes to lessons in the classroom, I like to create a spark of inspiration in my students and give them the freedom to run with their curiosity. This includes lessons that allow them to choose a topic of focus to research within the time period we are studying such as WWII, such as women from the WAC (Army), WAVES (Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard), WASPS (Army Air Force) and Lady Marines, or the contributions of the Navajo Code Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen and many more.”

Why focus on WWII?

“Although I have no familial connections to that war, I was drawn to the time period,” she said. “It was a time when most people came together for a common goal – to win the war – regardless of race or economic status. It was an empowering time period, societal expectations changed, women went to work in factories. We were changing things for the better.”

shelby anderson artifacts

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Artifacts include WWII uniforms, a gas mask, footlocker and typewriter. The first uniform on the left was purchased from a girl who was leaving the hobby. The nurse’s uniform, along with the shoes and hat, came from eBay, the uniform on the far right belonged to her great uncle and Anderson also acquires them from friends and donations.

Some of the uniforms are from private collections – she also has friends who do Civil War reenactments. “There are all types of reenactments,” Anderson said. “In addition to WWII, and the clothing reenactments, there are WWII and Civil War battles. Because reenactments of WWII are ‘male heavy,’ women are seen tending to switchboards and other activities.”

shelby anderson newspapers

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Some of the newspapers she inherited from previous history teachers and others are from estate sales

As a fun lesson, Anderson has an ‘artifact of the week’ contest, where students guess the use of a certain artifact. Another exercise involved planning meals for a month using WWII ration books.

Early life

It’s apparent Anderson is a force to be reckoned with, not only in the way she approaches teaching, but in the many unique aspects of her life. Her resume of accomplishments is impressive – and long – so it’s no surprise that her early expansive life led to an extraordinary teaching career.

“I was homeschooled until I went to Pacific Coast High School,” Anderson said. “In 2014, I graduated at the top of my class and served as the valedictorian.”

Anderson offered an example of her adventurous homeschooling education. “We were studying the gold rush, so my parents took us to San Francisco to pan for gold.”

shelby anderson shield

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The Captain Carter (Avenger) shield Anderson got at Disneyland at the 100-year appreciation event

Her dad owned his own business, so they traveled frequently. “We went to Catalina (she called it her second home) a lot and traveled throughout the U.S. and internationally,” she said. “We went across the U.S. to Indiana and back in a trailer and saw Mount Rushmore and other historic places. When I was 10 years old, we went to Europe and camped in an RV for a month.” In addition to recognizing and appreciating travel as a learning experience, her parents valued literature and read from a book after dinner every night.

“I went to UCI after high school and earned degrees in both Social Policy and Public Service. My undergrad thesis focused on understanding how social cultures impact career choices.” She worked at a nonprofit to gather research material.

Anderson comes from a family of achievers. Her younger brother graduated from Patrick Henry College, and her older brother earned an MBA at Duke and now lives in Texas, with his wife and two children.

“After I graduated in 2018, I went on to grad school and got a masters in teaching. I did the masters and credentials in one and a half years, but was able to teach in a classroom for only six months before schools shut down due the pandemic,” said Anderson said.

Disneyland

“It was amazing to be recognized by Disney,” Anderson said. “They were so welcoming and genuinely appreciative. The first day we met in the lobby at 6:15 a.m., and they had keynote speakers highlighting the impact teachers have had on students’ lives – and honoring the teachers who came before us. Then they split us up into groups – I was in the Goofy group.”

shelby anderson goofy group

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Courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Anderson was part of the “Goofy” group

“The Disneyland Cavalcade of Teachers parade down Main Street was just for us. Some of the teachers were on floats, others walked, and we were all in silver and purple T-shirts,” Anderson said. “We felt the appreciation, warmth and love from the 1,000 people who lined the streets. Everyone we came across expressed their gratitude for teachers. Then we went to the Disney Imagination Camp to attend a couple of active workshops – making a light show and park planning, which involved designing a theme park and learning how it functions. I want to bring my students to this to learn how it (the planning) applies to cities in the future.”

shelby anderson waving in parade

Courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Cavalcade of Teachers

Summer plans

Anderson has also been honorably selected to attend the National WWII Museum’s Collection to Classroom Teacher Training in July. “A limited number of teachers across the nation are ‘immersed in teacher professional development programs’ held on site at the museum,” she said. “It gives participants access to noted WWII scholars, as well as hands-on experiences, museum curriculum and virtual resources they can use in their classrooms.”

At the training, two workshops are offered every year on different themes related to the history of World War II. One involves the role of Disney in WWII. Walt Disney alone devoted more than 90% of its wartime output to creating media and materials related to the war including more than 1,200 unit insignia.

“By the end of the program, I will become part of the museum’s nationwide network of Master Educators dedicated to improving the quality of instruction on World War II and be recognized as an expert in World War II education by the museum,” Anderson said.

shelby anderson with girls

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Courtesy of Shelby Anderson

Anderson with other members of the HUSC

As if that wasn’t enough activity for the summer, she’s also taking a group of 35 kids (and four chaperones) to Japan for 11 days this summer for a cultural emersion trip. Along with sightseeing to Tokyo and Kyoto (and more), it will include a visit to Hiroshima.

Fun facts

–Anderson tried out to be a Disney princess, but she wasn’t tall enough.

–In 2020, she renovated a 1964 Nomad trailer.

–She’s an avid Pyrex collector.

–Swing dancing is one of her passions.

–Three years ago, she started a small business (www.extremelyretro.com) and the products are now in 88 retailers across the country.

–She was a Wheel of Fortune contestant a few years ago.

–She went to England earlier this year and visited Downton Abbey.

–She is on the board of her reenactment group (www.thehusc.com) as the Education Outreach Coordinator.

–She also partnered with the Laguna Beach Historical Society to create an extra credit event during the pandemic for students to get to know their local history.

Future

Next school year, in addition to history, Anderson will be teaching AP Geography which is open to all grade levels. It will focus on reading maps in order to study population and migration patterns, the where and why, and political patterns and processes – both in the city and urban environment.

Although it seems politics would be an ideal fit for her, Anderson has no such plans. “I can have a bigger impact in the classroom and my sanity is far more important. I don’t want to sacrifice time and energy, if it doesn’t fill my soul.”

Of her experience at the Disney 100th Anniversary Teacher Celebration event, Anderson said. “It was a mini-Disney princess moment. I was being true to who I am – and the history person.”

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

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