Nevada’s teachers and students brushing up on George

3/7/2011 - By: Claudene Wharton
Scott Casper Scott Casper, University of Nevada, Reno history department chair and Foundation Professor. Photo courtesy of Theresa Danna-Douglas, University of Nevada, Reno.

On March 5, about 70 K-12 teachers spent their day off at Harrah's Automobile Museum immersed in everything George Washington, Mount Vernon and the founding of our nation. Besides Casper, other presenters included Edward G. Lengel, editor-in-chief of The Papers of George Washington; Larry Earl, executive director of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum; and Carla McClafferty, author of The Many Faces of George Washington.

The workshop was part of the educational programs operated by George Washington's Mount Vernon, which is maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, a nonprofit organization. Over the next two years, the George Washington Nevada Teaching Ambassador Program will provide teacher workshops and presentations in Reno, Las Vegas and Elko. Programs and educational materials will be provided to K-12 students, who will also have the opportunity to participate in educational contests.

"We like to keep our programs innovative and interdisciplinary," said Nancy Hayward, Mount Vernon's interim vice president for education. "For example, elementary schoolchildren will participate in a 'General Washington Takes the Cake' contest, where they will design a birthday cake that focuses on an aspect of George Washington, requiring them to combine art with historical accuracy." 

Middle-school students will be participating in a similar contest, designing placemats, and high-school students will be challenged to write an essay on the relevance of George Washington's leadership. Those who write the two best essays in the state will earn a trip to visit Mount Vernon in Arlington, Va.

The program in Nevada is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and is being created in partnership with the Nevada Department of Education, the Nevada Historical Society, Nevada Humanities, Nevada State Museum and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Professor Casper has been involved with Mount Vernon's educational programs for the past several years. Eleven years ago, Hayward heard about Casper's work and recruited him to present at Mount Vernon's summer residential teachers' institutes, where K-12 teachers from across the country live and learn at the estate for a week, soaking in the experiences of Mount Vernon and Washington's life, and attending presentations by staff and nationally recognized experts. Casper shares his research on visual images of Washington and how Washington has been depicted.

"It is very interesting to see how the depictions have changed during different time periods, and how different artists have manipulated the images," Casper said.

Hayward says the teachers attending the summer institutes get multiple benefits from attending Casper's presentations.

"They are interdisciplinary," she said, "and the teachers not only learn more about George Washington, but Scott also models this teaching method of using art and visual images to teach history. We've had teachers comment about how they've changed their teaching methods after seeing Scott's presentation."

Casper's excellence in teaching has not gone formerly unnoticed. He has received several honors, including the Professor of the Year from the prestigious Carnegie Foundation in 2008, and the Nevada Board of Regents' Teaching Award in 2005.

While presenting at Mount Vernon during the summers, Casper became immersed in the estate and its history. He researched and wrote Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine, which earned impressive reviews for its engaging story of the life of a former slave at Mount Vernon.

"It was an enriching project to try to give a certain amount of voice to people in the past whose own words had rarely, if ever, been recorded," Casper said. "Everyone there welcomed the fact that I was doing research and adding more to the history. That's what's extraordinary about Mount Vernon - it both keeps George Washington's memory alive today, and is also constantly inspiring us to learn more about him and the period of the founding of our nation."


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