The Edmond Sun

August 10, 2013

Edmond educator immerses in history at Colonial Williamsburg

Patty Miller
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — An Edmond elementary teacher joined 28 other Oklahoma teachers in Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia this summer.

Ida Freeman’s fifth-grade teacher Stacey Ruston walked in the footsteps of America’s patriots and British colonists during the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute in Early American History, held this summer in the restored capital city of 18th-century Virginia.  

Oklahoma had 842 graduates from the institute making it second only to California in the number of teacher institute participants. This year Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence celebrated the 20th anniversary of its partnership with Colonial Williamsburg by sending Oklahoma teachers to the renowned teacher institute.  

Throughout the week, participants were able to experience a variety of historical events, places and people.

“A few highlights of my week were living in the same quarters as our nation’s founding fathers,” Ruston said. “We toured homes and reenacted dinner parties. I was given the opportunity to play the harpsichord at the Benjamin Powell House. Our fantastic week was topped off with an emotional visit to Yorktown. It was a sacred site (the field where the British surrendered) and really brought my week full circle.”

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence selected the teachers to receive all-expense paid fellowships to the summer institute in Williamsburg, Va., as well as $300 stipends for classroom materials. In addition, participants will receive a one-year subscription to the Colonial Williamsburg Electronic Field Trip series, which combines Internet activities and live television broadcasts to help bring the Colonial Williamsburg experience to the classroom.

“I am so excited to get started in August,” Ruston said. “The lessons and activities I learned are relatively easy to implement yet will leave such an impact on my students. I am bringing history to life.”

Vanna Owens, a teacher at Little Axe Elementary School, was selected by the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute to serve as peer facilitator for the Oklahoma delegation. Owens, who is a 2011 Teacher Institute alumna, met daily with the group to discuss teaching techniques and develop creative lesson plans based on their experiences in Williamsburg.

While at Colonial Williamsburg, the world’s largest living history museum, Oklahoma teachers met character interpreters of 18th-century people and were immersed in early American history through hands-on activities and reenactments of historic events. The week’s lessons were built around the theme “What It Means to Be an American.” Participants also visited Jamestown, which is the site of the first permanent English colony in America, and spent a day at Yorktown visiting the battlefields where the Continental Army forced the British to surrender.

The Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute provides participants with interactive teaching techniques and skills to become mentor teachers who can assist their peers and other educators to develop active learning classrooms and make history exciting for their students. Participants share strategies to improve instruction, raise literacy levels and enhance thinking skills.

“This is such a life-changing opportunity,” Ruston said. “The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is ‘paying it forward’ by giving teachers the financial means to gain valuable teaching tools so their students’ lives can be changed.”

The object of the institute is to make history ‘come alive’ for the students.

Oklahoma’s teacher institute program was founded and supported through the fundraising efforts of the late Oklahoma City businessman Edward C. Joullian III. A trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and former board member of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Joullian died in 2006. Graduates of the institute now receive lapel pins and certificates designating them as Edward C. Joullian Oklahoma Scholars. Joullian’s family, along with a group of loyal donors, continues to support the program, which has transformed the way many Oklahoma educators teach early American history.

The Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to recognizing and encouraging academic excellence in Oklahoma’s public schools. In addition to its Colonial Williamsburg programs, the foundation sponsors an Academic Awards Program, provides training and resources for new and established public school foundations, administers grants to teachers for professional development and coordinates a statewide youth mentoring initiative.

For more information, contact the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence at 236-0006.