Rosenwald School

This lesson plan is an adaptation of Katie Sutton Randall’shigh school lesson, “Education Reform During the Progressive Era and the Rosenwald Schools of the American South,” and is tailored to 5th grade Tennessee History. Students will learn about the Julius Rosenwald Fund and study images and drawings of the Cadentown Rosenwald chool in Lexington, Kentucky. The school was constructed in 1922-23, and the images were created after 1933 as part of the Library of Congress’ Historic American Building Survey. Students will analyze these sources to identify defining physical features of Rosenwald schools, develop historical research questions, and learn about the private-public partnerships that funded many Progressive Era reform efforts. An extension activity about Tennessee’s oldest Rosenwald School, West Bemis, is included.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
Analyze why the Radical Republicans turned to military Reconstruction and the backlash resulting in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, black codes, and vigilante justice.
Analyze the similarities and differences in points of view of multiple accounts of the same event or topic.
Locate an answer to a question or solve a problem, drawing on information from multiple print or digital sources.
Integrate information from two or more texts on the same topic in order to build content knowledge.
Explain how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or mood of a text, such as in a graphic novel, multimedia presentation, or...
Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

Students will learn to evaluate primary source materials as artifacts, develop an understanding of the importance of historical inquiry based on primary sources, gain a better understanding that political, economic, and social history are connected, and recognize that private-public partnerships often funded reform efforts during the Progressive Era. 

Essential and guiding questions: 

How can buildings be used as primary sources? What kind of relationship model did the Rosenwald initiative create for Progressive reform efforts? 

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • Play Verizon’s “Innovative Learning” TV Commercial, which references schools in Polk County, Tennessee, who received funds for new technology from Verizon. Why did Verizon choose to donate to these schools?
  • What did the company gain in doing so? How was education at these schools impacted? How does this relate to Rosenwald Schools?
  • Have students learn more about historic preservation efforts to save and restore Rosenwald schools by visiting the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website. Ask students to search for Tennessee’s Rosenwald Schools and share what they find with the class.

Helpful Hints


  • Primary Source Analysis Tool
  • Analyzing Photgraphs and Prints Teachers Guide
  • Paper/pencil