Great Bend High School Social Studies teacher Barbara Harris spent a week in Washington D.C. in July learning instead of teaching.
“It was refreshing to be a student again,” she said. “As a teacher, we don’t often get a chance to to do that, so it was really enjoyable.”
Harris was one of ten Kansas Social Studies teachers selected to participate in a program hosted by the Bill of Rights Institute in partnership with the Foundation for Economic Education and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation. Founders Fellowship: Civil Liberty, Commerce, and the Constitution offered educators opportunities to hear from expert lecturers and attend scholar-led visits to historic sites in and around the nation’s capital.
Colleagues had told Harris that the Bill of Rights institute provided a lot of educational opportunities for teachers. She said she decided to look into it one evening online, and decided to apply for and received a scholarship to attend.
A lecture by Professor of History Robert McDonald from West Point’s American Military Academy was at the top of her list of memorable events.
“He told everything in story form and was totally engaging,” she said.
Visiting the National Archives education center gave Harris insight into the variety of resources available for her to bring back to the classroom to expose students to that may never get a chance to come to Washington D.C.
Her favorite destination, however, was the tour of Mount Vernon, home to founding father George Washington. The property sits on the shore of the Potomac river, and is surrounded by farmland. This was the first time Harris had ever visited Mount Vernon, and had a chance to learn more details about one of her favorite historical figures. There, she learned about Washington the farmer.
“I was impressed by his willingness to rotate crops back then,” she said. “I was surprised to learn that wheat, not tobacco, was his main crop. That surprised all of us from Kansas.”
Harris said part of the focus of the program was how to bring back information to incorporate into the classroom. Teachers worked on lesson plans as part of their assignments during the week.
On Constitution Day, Monday, September 17, Harris has something special planned. She hopes to enhance teaching about Washington and the other Founding Fathers as a result of this experience, she said. She took several pictures and will use them to help students connect with her lessons.
To prepare for the program, Harris completed readings about the founding of the United States of America, exploring the question, “How did the Founders define liberty?” She received a certificate for 25 contact hours of professional development. In an email, Rachel Gellespie of the Bill of Rights Institute said Harris was selected based upon her leadership displayed in the classroom and dedication to educating her students about the connections between politics and economics in America.
Susan Addington, community relations manager for the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, one of the co-hosts of the event said, “We applaud the Institute’s efforts to provide quality educational opportunities at no cost to Kansas students and teachers as they learn about our nation’s founders and founding principles.”
“We are grateful for the support of the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation, which enables us to challenge and enrich teachers’ lives as they study works written by and about the leading minds of the American Founding era,” said Tony Woodlief, president at the Bill of Rights Institute. “This work is invaluable to the continuation of the American experiment in self-government.”
The Founders Fellowship Program is made possible through partnership with the Foundation for Economic Education and the Fred and Mary Koch Foundation.