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Red Rock teacher experiences George Washington's life first-hand

Red Rock Elementary fifth grade teacher Nancy Krenner participated in the George Washington Teachers' Institute at Mount Vernon earlier this summer. One component of the program was character interpreters who took on the persona of historical figure such as Martha Washington.

Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series chronicling Woodbury teachers' summer plans. If you are a Woodbury teacher with interesting or unique summer plans contact the Woodbury Bulletin at

George Washington was the country's first president, a general during the American Revolution, he chopped down a cherry tree and had wooden teeth. But a Woodbury teacher learned last month there is so much more to the man on the dollar bill.

From June 10-16, Red Rock Elementary fifth grade teacher Nancy Krenner dove head first into the life of Washington during the George Washington Teachers' Institute at Mount Vernon,Va., George Washington's estate.

"He's a fascinating man," Krenner said. "I didn't know as much as I guess I should have."

The George Washington Teachers' Institute provides an intensive study of Washington and his world through discussions led by noted Washington scholars and hands-on workshops.

Krenner participated in the George Washington Teachers' Institute thanks to the Minnesota Council of the Social Studies.

Only 20 people from around the country get to participate in the program.

Krenner first heard about the program more than three years ago from other teachers who had participated.

"It always intrigued me," she said, "because they would say it was life changing and career changing."

Since the program is so selective, the application process to qualify was intense, Krenner said.

In order to qualify Krenner had to answer a series of essay questions including what she wanted to get out of the experience and what she was going to bring to the experience.

Additionally Krenner had to submit letters of recommendation.

For the first two years, Krenner was rejected from the program, but the third time was the charm.

Mount Vernon

During the experience Krenner and her fellow teachers stayed on the grounds at Mount Vernon while participating in a variety of activities.

"You literally stay on the grounds," Krenner said, "which people don't do."

The program consisted of tours of Washington's estate including his mansion, the gardens, a functioning grist mill and Washington's whiskey distillery.

Krenner even was able to watch the sun rise over the Potomac River from the Mount Vernon piazza.

"We had the run of the grounds," she said.

In addition to touring the estate and learning about its history, Krenner also participated in lectures and presentations from noted authors, scholars, professors and historians.

Additionally, there was a group of character interpreters who portrayed people from Washington's time.

"That really intrigued me because I like to do that in the classroom," Krenner said. "It really brought some of that history alive."

One of the characters portrayed Washington's doctor, Dr. James Craik.

"The tears were going down my face," she said. "He did such a wonderful job."

Another one of the character interpreters portrayed a loyalist during the American Revolution.

"She made me see the loyalists in a different light," Krenner said. "She gave it such a spin that I can totally see why some of these people were not on the side of 'let's have a revolution for our freedom."

Krenner's stay at Mount Vernon culminated with a visit to Washington's tomb where she was able to participate in a wreath-laying ceremony.

"It was so moving," she said. "It kind of encompassed the whole week - it was the experience of a lifetime."

Bringing Washington into the classroom

Krenner said her experience at Mount Vernon has given her some wonderful ideas on ways to bring Washington, and his contributions to the world, into her classroom.

"If you don't learn from your history you tend to repeat it," she said. "In order for them to be good decision makers, good productive citizens for our society they need to know our American history - and they're not going to get it all from a textbook."

One of her ideas is to teach Washington's "Rules of Civility" to her students.

The Rules of Civility are essentially the rules of proper behavior.

"There's such a correlation with how to conduct yourself in social situations and professional situations," she said. "I want to be able to work them throughout the whole school year and intertwine (Washington) throughout the entire year as the hero that he was."

Krenner said she recommends the George Washington Teachers Institute to anyone who wants to bring one of America's most important figures into the classroom.

"Students see these people on television and I want them to see the hero in George Washington rather than someone they admire that hasn't really contributed as much as they think they did," she said. "I think he's a good model for them."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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