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August 22, 2013

Virginia Beach Teachers Sharpened Teaching Skills this Summer

Elementary and middle school teachers from Virginia Beach immersed themselves in American history this summer – to become better teachers. A gift from the Batten Educational Achievement Fund of the Hampton Roads Community Foundation provided the funding for 15 fifth- and sixth-grade teachers from Virginia Beach and mentor teacher, Ruth King, National Council for Social Studies Elementary School Teacher of the Year 2001, from the Alpine School District in Utah, to attend the program. Jane Batten and her late husband, Frank Batten Sr. and the Batten Foundation are generous supporters of education and of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

“The weeklong immersion in the life of early Virginia was an amazing educational experience that will certainly influence my teaching practices in my fifth-grade classroom,” said Cathy Whittecar of Centerville Elementary. “From the costumed interpreters with whom we interacted to economic simulations and archaeological digs, we ‘became’ colonists and could better understand the perspectives of the various groups in the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Providing teachers the tools to make history exciting and engaging for students is the focus of the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, which marked its 24th anniversary in 2013 with 16 separate sessions – 12 for elementary teachers, three for middle school teachers and one for high school teachers. The program helps teachers meet national and state history/social studies standards through six-day on-site, hands-on immersion experiences in American history. Content and teaching strategies for the different sessions are geared to the appropriate grade levels and curriculum. Today there are nearly 7,800 teacher graduates of the program from all 5o states.

During the week-long Teacher Institute, teachers are up early and follow a full schedule well into the evening, sharing new ideas, brainstorming and forming lifelong friendships. They begin their work at Jamestown, where the docents, park rangers and interpreters at Historic Jamestowne and Jamestown Settlement provide insight into what life might have been like for the English who arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1607. The continuing archaeological discoveries of 17th-century artifacts at Jamestowne dramatically demonstrate to teachers how they can use primary sources in the classroom and the powerful impact they have on learning.

The teachers also visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Great Hopes Plantation, an interactive living history site that represents how the rural middle class and enslaved Africans lived. They meet interpreters, explore the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, study portraits in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and visit the Historic Trades shops. They participate in debates and courtroom trials and end their week on the battlefields of Yorktown. Teachers who participate in the program consistently rank the Teacher Institute as a career-changing experience that enriches their professional careers. Each scholarship includes tuition for the intensive week-long seminar, lodging in the Historic Area, meals, evening programs and a stipend to purchase classroom resources. The cost of transportation to Williamsburg is also provided.

Teachers or school districts interested in applying for scholarships to attend Teacher Institute or schedule a Teaching American History conference should email or call (757) 565-8417 for more information.

Media Contact:
Barbara Brown