Summer Adventures in Philadelphia

Founded in 1994 by Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is a nonprofit organization devoted to the improvement of history education. The Institute has developed an array of programs for schools, teachers, and students that now operate in all fifty states, including a website that features more than 60,000 unique historical documents in the Gilder Lehrman Collection. Each year the Institute offers support and resources to tens of thousands of teachers, and through them enhances the education of more than a million students. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians.

This summer, I have had the great opportunity to not only rest and recharge for the next school year, but also to become a student again through a number of professional development opportunities.  These experiences actually recharge me the most – the other educators I meet, the topics we cover, and the lessons I learn will enrich and enhance my classroom in ways I never thought possible.

My trip to Philadelphia with the Gilder Lehrman Institute for “Philadelphia and the Era of the American Revolution,” a week-long seminar held at the University of Pennsylvania, particularly stands out.  Our professor was Patrick Spero, assistant professor of history and leadership studies at Williams College, who is widely considered a “rising star” in the field of American History.  He brought history to life for us in Philadelphia, which will in turn help us do the same for our students in the classroom.

Our agenda was packed – often two lectures in the morning followed by field trips in the afternoon – and these weren’t just any field trips.  That letter the Professor mentioned in lecture?  Let’s go to the American Philosophical Society and see it… and read it… and touch it!

Did you know there will be a new Museum of the American Revolution opening in Philadelphia in 2016?  I didn’t either, but I found out when we first visited the construction site on a tour of the Old City on Monday.  Later in the week, we were taken to the warehouse where they are storing all of the artifacts while the museum is being built!  A warehouse.  Full of priceless American history artifacts.  Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The other thing I discovered during my summer travels was a reminder of how fortunate I am to work at an independent school, and especially at Harrisburg Academy.  It was exciting to think about how I could incorporate what I learned into my lessons, because at the Academy, we have motivated students, involved parents, a supportive administration, and the freedom to teach material for which we are most passionate.

A survey done by a young George Washington in 1751.

My hand on a letter signed by George Washington! One of about 50 we were able to examine that morning. We were like kids in a candy store. Except instead of having our hands in the candy jar, we had our hands on priceless historical documents.

One of the best things about this experience was the people! Here I am with my awesome seminar group, made up of teachers from around the country, at the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

R. Scott Stephenson, director of collections and interpretation, showing us some of the artifacts at the Museum of the American Revolution warehouse.