Area Teachers Enjoy a Historical Experience

Area Teachers Enjoy a Historical Experience

August 1, 2002

More than 160 teachers from six states and the District of Columbia converged on the Mount Vernon Estate July 22 and 24 to participate in the 2002 George Washington Teachers Institute. Their assignment is to keep the legacy of the first U.S. president a viable part of the educational system.

It marked the first time the Institute had been open to educators from the Washington metropolitan area. Traditionally, attendance has been limited to those from distant areas and usually drew no more than a dozen, according to Audra Acey, Mount Vernon media and special events associate

"We were able to accommodate a lot more teachers because we don't have to house those from the immediate area," Acey explained. Teachers from distant states are housed in private quarters on the Estate.

As a week-long educational experience, the institute focused on the life and times of George Washington and his myriad contributions to the establishment and early development of this nation. Among the subjects covered were Washington and Politics, Washington's Military Career, Washington as a Farmer and Entrepreneur, and Washington the Surveyor.

Initiated in 1999 with teachers from Mississippi only, it steadily grew to include educators from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. "This year's large number from Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District was enabled by a $10,000 grant from Mr. and Mrs. John McDonnell Jr.," explained Ann Bay, Mount Vernon's associate director for education.

THE PORTION OPEN to those from the local areas was held all day on July 22 and the morning of July 24. It also included a cocktail reception on July 22, according to Bay.

"I'm really impressed with what we have been offered. We have experts teaching the teachers, and we are able to learn from one another," Kathy Atanasov, a teacher of English as a Second Language at Woodlawn Elementary in Fairfax, said. "As a language teacher, I'm very much involved with history as well."

Amy Harris-White, a teacher at the North Springs Field Center in Fairfax, said, "It's fantastic that local teachers are participating." Of the total participants this year, all but 17 were from the surrounding area.

"We are hopeful we can do this again next year, but it depends if we get another grant," Bay explained. "The $10,000 enabled us to bring in speakers we normally would not be able to afford and to do the reception."

That portion of the total program open to the local area teachers included four hours of lectures on Washington as frontier surveyor and soldier and his overall military career on Monday. These were buttressed by break-out workshops on various elements of the lectures.

Wednesday's session featured a lecture on "George Washington and Slavery" and a one-hour special presentation by Larry Earl of The Charles Wright Museum of African American History on "Presenting African American History."

The Institute relies solely on private funding, and teachers participate free of charge, according to Acey. It ran from July 20-27, culminating in a barbecue at the Mount Vernon Estate wharf on July 26, Bay said.

In addition to being immersed in Mount Vernon and George Washington history, the 17 teachers from the four distant states spent last Thursday in Williamsburg. Their journey was designed to provide another dimension to Washington's involvement in helping to build the foundation for the United States.

A VITAL ELEMENT of the Mount Vernon Estate planned expansion will be the new teacher learning center, which will serve as the home of the Institute in future years, according to Richard B. Dressner, Ph.D., associate director, in charge of fund-raising for the Estate's capital campaign.

Teachers who take part in the Institute are required to create lesson plans for their own classrooms and to develop special training sessions for others in their home school districts, Dressner explained. One example of its success is that there is now a First Night Ball in Biloxi, Miss., each year.

An ancillary aspect to the Institute is to reintroduce Washington to the American public and reignite a new enlightenment in American history, according to Dressner. The Institute is specifically oriented to elementary and secondary teachers.

This first-time exposure by local teachers was best summed up by an attendee from Springfield, who said, "This is the first time I've attended a recertification program that's really been not only meaningful but enjoyable."