SHERIDAN — Imagine traveling hundreds of years in the past to see how the first settlers lived day by day.
For history buffs, it might be a dream; and one local social studies teacher had hers fulfilled.
Jennifer Betz, the seventh- through 12th-grade social studies teacher at Arvada-Clearmont school recently completed an intense, six-day immersion in American history at the Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute.
Betz was able to attend thanks to a grant, which funded 15 teachers from Wyoming to participate in the program.
“Historically, not a lot of Wyoming teachers attend this institute,” Betz said.
“That’s why they had a donor that said, ‘We need specifically Wyoming teachers, because they are not coming.’”
The institute was created to encourage history education and make it engaging for students. Teachers participated in a six-day session on location in Colonial Williamsburg and the surrounding area. During that time, teachers work collaboratively with Colonial Williamsburg staff and master teachers to examine teaching techniques, develop instructional materials to improve education, raise literacy levels and enhance thinking skills.
“We stayed in colonial housing, so you are really in and amongst everything,” Betz said.
Colonial Williamsburg is a living museum where actors and historians engage with visitors as if it were colonial times. Attractions include colonial buildings and horse-drawn carriages, giving visitors a glimpse into what life was like for the first settlers.
Williamsburg, Virginia, was one of the first European settlements in the United States and was once the capital of the Virginia Territory. In the 1930s, part of the town was transformed into a living museum.
Every summer, the museum invites teachers from across the country to participate in the Teacher Institute.
In the program, educators participate in an interdisciplinary approach to teaching social studies and American history.
“A lot of it was lesson planning,” Betz said. “We would do a sample lesson … we would read primary documents and discuss how we would implement these things into our classroom.”
Outside instructional time, Betz had the opportunity to listen to presentations by actors portraying historical figures, such as Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, who stayed in character during their presentations.
Sheridan County School District 3 Superintendent Charles Auzqui noted Betz “wears multiple hats” as the social studies teacher at the school.
At the institute, teachers exchanged ideas with each other and historians, which Betz found especially helpful. She said opportunities to collaborate with others in her subject are rare.
“It’s always nice, because I am the only social studies teacher, to talk to other teachers,” Betz said. “… We have different classes and different school sizes, but I’ve found we have a lot of similarities.”
Betz said the institute helped her learn new subjects and gave her a unique perspective on how to view history, which she hopes to pass on to her students.
“We get so wrapped up in dates and events instead of realizing life happened and people were being impacted by whatever was going on,” Betz said. “So I think that’s why kids often find history to be boring, because it’s (learning about) dates and events, not people.”