OKLAHOMA CITY — Thirty-six Oklahoma educators including one from Edmond can hardly wait to return to the classroom after experiencing a week of historical immersion into early American life at the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, held at the restored capital of 18th-century Virginia.

This summer’s Oklahoma participants included 27 fifth-grade teachers and nine eighth-grade educators. Fifth-grade teacher participants include Teresa Potter, a teacher at Oakdale Elementary School in Edmond. She was selected by the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute to serve as peer facilitator for the fifth-grade Oklahoma delegation. She met daily with teachers to discuss interactive teaching techniques and help develop creative lesson plans based on their experiences.

Potter has served 12 times as a peer facilitator at the teacher institute. She joined the staff of Oakdale Elementary School as a fifth-grade and gifted program teacher. She is also the coordinator of Colonial Day at the Capitol and a former Oklahoma Medal for Excellence-winning elementary teacher.

While in Colonial Williamsburg — considered the world’s largest living history museum — Oklahoma teachers met character interpreters of 18th-century people — from Powhatan Indians and plantation slaves to British loyalists and Founding Fathers. Educators were immersed in early American history through hands-on activities and reenactments of historical events.

This marks the 27th year that Oklahoma teachers have attended the institute through a fellowship program coordinated by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a statewide nonprofit that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in public schools. Oklahoma is second in the nation, following California, in the number of teacher institute participants, with 1,044 graduates.

“My week in Williamsburg has been fantastic,” said Brooke Lee, a fifth-grade teacher at Pioneer Elementary School in Noble. “From meeting historical character interpreters and learning trades to exploring buildings, I have been immersed in the colonial history of our nation. My favorite part of the week was examining original documents in the special archive collection and exploring original structures.”

Lee said she feels better prepared to help her students understand the lives of everyday people who lived in the colonies and to help students “connect their lives today with historical moments that shaped our nation.”

Sarah Drake, who teaches U.S. history at Rush Springs Middle School and High School, said the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute was the best professional development experience she has attended in her 26-year teaching career. 

“Our group debated voting for independence in the very chamber when the Virginia Burgesses voted to join the independence movement,” she said. “We were privileged to meet several interpreters of historical figures, including Martha Washington; French Revolutionary war hero Marquis de Lafayette; Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion; and Jenny Joseph, a slave woman.”

Drake said she looks forward to sharing personal stories and applying lessons she has learned in both middle school and high school classes. The Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute provides participants with interactive teaching techniques and skills to become mentor teachers who can assist 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.

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.