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Stissing Mountain history teacher Neil Murray won the 2020 Eileen Mylod Hayden Award for Excellence in History Education. Here, Murray wore the traditional uniform of the Dutchess County Militia of the American Revolution. Photo submitted

Stissing Mountain history teacher receives honor

PINE PLAINS — The Pine Plains Central School District community extended its congratulations last month to Neil Murray, a longtime history teacher at Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School, when Murray’s work in conveying a love and respect of history in his students was honored with the 2020 Eileen Mylod Hayden Award for Excellence in History Education.

As noted on the district’s website, www.ppcsd.org, the Eileen Mylod Hayden Award for Excellence in History Education is designed to recognize “teachers at middle or high school levels who effectively impart a love of history in their students.”

Casting his memory back to when he first became intrigued by history, Murray immediately recalled a project he did in the fourth grade on General George Custer, sparking what would later evolve into a lifelong interest. While attending college at the University of Buffalo in upstate New York, he decided to pursue a career in education and teach history and was hired by the Pine Plains Central School District right out of college. From that moment on, Murray said he’s been teaching history in “the same district, same room, same desk since September of ’99.”

Today, Murray teaches courses in United States History and Military History to the juniors and seniors enrolled at Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School. Relaying his respect for history through his work in the local community, he’s been involved with the American Legion Post 426 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 5519 for many years, during which time he’s helped assemble local programs like the annual Veterans Day ceremony.

As far as what he enjoys about imparting his love of history in his students, Murray said, “I guess for students to understand that you can make tangible connections to the past by relating it to their own lives today, experiencing the past and understanding that it’s not just names and dates in a textbook — that these were real people living lives not different from ours, just in a different time. By remembering history as a story, it makes it more interesting.” 

Murray also underlined the importance of making sure his students remember that the history they’re learning about is “livable” and said that’s key to helping make those lessons stick.

“These are real people with real experiences and real lives and did the same things we did in the context of their time period,” he said.

Regarding his teaching methods, Murray said he likes to engage his students through “living history.”

To make connections with the past, he explained, is to experience the difficulties faced and to understand how much harder life was, which, in turn, helps foster a greater appreciation for the past. For example, in order to cook a simple meal, Murray said his students would have to figure out how they would find the materials to build a fire, and then how they would use the fire to cook their food.

When he was first notified that he’d be honored with this year’s Eileen Mylod Hayden Award for Excellence in History Education, Murray said he was humbled.

“For me, obviously you don’t engage in these educational practices to win an award,” he said.

“Neil is an asset to our district and community,” said Stissing Mountain Junior/Senior High School Principal Tara Grieb. “His incorporation of living history into learning experiences for students should be a model for all educators. Where others lecture, he is an avid storyteller with a deep knowledge base. This award is well deserved!”

Concerning his plans to continue sharing his love of history with future generations of students from the Pine Plains area, Murray said, “I’ve always tried to come up with new and innovative ways to bring history to life for my students.”

Murray shared his interest in teaching about different time periods and eras as well as different historical topics and other aspects of living history.

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