For Groveton Elementary principal Chris Lamb, touring Mount Vernon Estate was not only relaxing but educational as well.
Lamb, along with other teachers and administrators got a special look at estate this week, without the crowds.
It was a chance for educators to talk to Dennis Pogue, Associate Director for Preservation; listen to James C. Rees, executive director of Mount Vernon; take a tour of the mansion; and hear songs and stories of slavery by Larry Earl, manger of African American Interpretation and Programs.
Stephen Christoff entertained the guests by playing St. Anne's Reel on an octave mandolin, an instrument popular in the 18th-century. Another interpreter showed the art of basket weaving. Guests were also treated to an elegant cocktail reception.
Denise Davis, a teacher at Groveton also took advantage of the evening. Davis is part of a team which helped to write a curriculum for Mount Vernon, with a focus on the farm and the Grist Mill. These materials can be used by teachers in grades K-3 to use with their class before they come to the estate.
"It's beneficial for both of us," said Lamb.
Groveton has enjoyed a partnership with Mount Vernon which allows them to partake in special programs. Having such a diverse student population, Lamb said, "We get to look at this [Mount Vernon] through the eyes of immigrants who want to see the father of this country's home."
REES SPOKE TO THE group as he presented a slide show. The presentation started off with a scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which Jimmy Stewart says that he wants to go visit Mount Vernon before he goes to the Capitol.
"You and your students are the most important audience," said Rees. With school tours down 70 percent, Rees said, "We didn't know how much we missed you until you weren't there."
Rees spoke about the fact that Americans take Washington for granted, citing a poll where Washington ranked seventh as president, behind the likes of Lincoln and Clinton. Rees is concerned that Washington has all but disappeared from the curriculum, with students only reading one-tenth of the information that was in textbooks 30 years ago.
He said that Mount Vernon needs to do a better job of educating people about George Washington. Surveys show that people enjoy the tours and love the beautiful gardens, but leave Mount Vernon saying, "You didn't tell us enough about the real George Washington."
Faced with this challenge, Rees and his staff are working hard to make Mount Vernon a better reflection of George Washington's talents and interests. Several major undertakings will happen over the next several years, including the making of a new film and museum and the building of an education center.
Rees mentioned The Grist Mill, which reopened last year. Pogue said that they already have had more than 10,000 visitors; a number Pogue said they hope to double this year. A number of new programs are being added at the mill, and hope to soon open the distillery, which is located hear the mill and is now being refurbished.
THIS IS THE SECOND year that an Educator's Evening has been held. Ann Bay, director of education at Mount Vernon, used to run a similar program for the Smithsonian, and said that it gained in popularity every year. She is hoping for the same results here. She said, "I spoke to teachers who had been to last year's event and enjoyed it. Teachers don't get enough recognition. This is our way of trying to build a constituency."