Saeger Middle Teacher Facilitates Professional Development Program at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Posted on 06/01/2017
Saeger Middle Teacher Facilitates Professional Development Program at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Saeger Middle School teacher Matthew Van Horn traveled to George Washington’s (yes, that George Washington) Mount Vernon to facilitate a four-day, residential professional development program from March 30 to April 2, 2017. Van Horn worked with staff and scholars to develop and implement “The George Washington Teacher Institute’s Slavery in George Washington’s World” program, in which 20 educators from all over the country came to participate.

Saeger students enjoy Van Horn’s classes, as his sense of humor and positive attitude create a safe, respectful place for kids to explore ideas about history and government. At Mount Vernon, Van Horn shared his teaching talents with some of the brightest educators in the United States. He led daily workshops with the help of other experts, including public historian Richard Josey of the Minnesota Historical Society and Dr. Kathryn Silva from Claflin University. "I was able to showcase the amazing things that we are able to do with our diverse group of students,” Van Horn said, “and highlight what we do in Francis Howell to be a welcoming school that embraces our students’ backgrounds and uses these differences to build a safe place to learn."

In addition to studying the context of slavery in the 1700’s and Mount Vernon’s enslaved population, educators learned about Washington’s ideas about slavery. Participants used primary historical sources and archaeological evidence to explore ways to broaden students’ understanding of slavery, and the challenges of teaching slavery and race in today’s classroom. Under Van Horn’s direction, participants presented culminating projects on the final day to reflect just some of what they had learned, and would apply, when they return to their respective classrooms.

Mount Vernon HouseWhile at the Institute, Van Horn lived on George Washington’s estate, within view of his mansion, and attended daily sessions in the 45,000 square-foot Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which opened in 2013.

“Being able to be fully immersed in the subject at Mount Vernon,” Van Horn said, “is something that is almost unheard of at other programs similar to this one. We have access to so many invaluable resources here while living at George Washington’s estate. Walking in the footsteps of those who made George Washington and his estate what it was is such a powerful piece of the story of his life. Being able to experience all of the aspects of his life firsthand from his home – his writings, his legacy – all help the teachers tell their students the complex story of our founding fathers.”

Institute participants from around the country included K-12 teachers, librarians, and media specialists selected by the George Washington Teacher Institute in a competitive application process. The winners not only got to experience George Washington’s history at his own home, they also got a chance to explore this fascinating subject with the always-engaging Van Horn.

The George Washington Teacher Institute, founded in 1999, provides K-12 educators with professional development opportunities throughout the year through residential, online, and regional programming, as well as Teacher Fellowships. Private funding supports full-scholarships for residential program participants, including a transportation stipend, to qualified educators from select states. In 2017, 160 educators from across the nation will benefit from the George Washington Teacher Institute Residential Programs. For more information about the George Washington Teacher Institute, please visit

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