BIC teacher enjoys study at Mount Vernon

Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Jill Sanders at the West Side of Mount Vernon.

Jill Sanders, Buffalo Island Central social studies teacher, is looking forward to getting back to her classroom and sharing with her students what she did on her summer break.

Sanders was one of 20 teachers from four states selected to attend the George Washington Teachers Institute at Mount Vernon June 9-15.

Sanders said she wishes she could have taken her students with her, adding it was by far the best professional development in-service session she has ever attended.

Jill Sanders at the 16-sided barn.

Sanders said it was an honor to be selected to attend the all-expenses-paid week long activity.

She has taught history and social studies but had not visited in the Washington, D.C., area. The workshop made the subjects of her teaching come to life, she said with a smile.

Established in 1999, the George Washington Summer Residential Teachers Institute is a highly competitive program, bringing educators to Mount Vernon, located on the Potomac River in Virginia, for an intensive week of study at Washington's home.

Teachers participated in a wreath laying ceremony at Mount Vernon.

Participating teachers immerse themselves in the study and discussion of this critical period of American history and the role George Washington played in the founding of the nation.

BIC principal Nicole Stewart gave Sanders information on the Teachers Institute last year.

"She thought it would be something I would be interested in," Sanders said. "At the deadline for applying last year, my son was in the hospital and everything else was placed on hold."

To be selected to attend, applicants must write an essay and send a resume, along with letters of recommendation.

Others among the 20 selected for this year's program were from other areas of Arkansas, Alabama, Nevada and Oklahoma.

The group stayed at Mount Vernon for the week. Sanders said she did not know what to expect and was delighted to discover their living quarters were on the grounds. Teachers had private rooms filled with beautiful antiques.

"We were treated like royalty," she said. "I learned so much by being there. It was a learning experience from start to finish."

Sanders earned National Board certification in 2009.

"Working to become National Board certified was the most difficult thing I have done in my career, and attending the George Washington Teachers Institute is one of the best activities of my career," she said.

Sanders received a bonus on top of the regularly scheduled trip. Her husband, Nathan, and their sons, Jacob and Evan, gave her a surprise gift for Mother's Day -- an extra day in Washington, D.C. They booked her flight and accommodations a day early so she could tour the area and visit the famous sites.

"It was a thoughtful gift," Sanders said. "It gave me the opportunity to visit Arlington Cemetery, the national monuments, museums and other places I would not have had time to visit without the gift. The schedule was very packed for the week. I was impressed with all of the scriptures on the monuments. It proves our country was founded on Christian principles."

Sanders and the other teachers attending had the opportunity to examine the character and accomplishments of George Washington while staying on his 18th century estate. They engaged in active discussion of 18th century history with top historians. They explored Mount Vernon and the Washington, D.C., area through interactive workshops, tours, field trips and group projects. They learned how to integrate teaching history into English, science, math and geography curricula in accordance with current education standards. They not only will return to their classrooms with the knowledge they learned, they were given stacks of teaching materials.

Those attending the Institute will write lesson plans about George Washington and submit them for review.

Mount Vernon will host state sessions to build the foundation for statewide collegial networks of teachers who can share classroom ideas, lesson plans and resources.

Sanders loved the character theme and listening to the characters from the early years of Mount Vernon tell their stories. "It was like having the opportunity to step back into history," she said.

The teachers toured Mount Vernon extensively and were allowed to take part in a private wreath laying at Washington's tomb. They also enjoyed a moonlight tour of the DC Monuments, attending sessions on George Washington's accomplishments as an architect, farmer and entrepreneur and more.

Being from rural Arkansas, Sanders enjoyed the farm tour and visiting a 16-sided treading barn designed by Washington, along with the gristmill and distillery tour. She also is a music enthusiast and enjoyed the session on music of George Washington's time.

"He served his country during the Revolutionary War and then as President, but it seemed his heart was always at Mount Vernon," she said.

Sanders also enjoyed the characters of the first two first ladies and lessons from historians and professors. There was an informative session on integrating Common Core into the classroom.

"It was perfect from start to finish," Sanders said.

She is looking forward to returning with her family for a visit.

"If any teacher has the opportunity to apply for the Mount Vernon Institute, I would recommend it," she said. "They will not be disappointed. If they want to contact me, I will give them contact information."

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