Teachers from around the region—and the country—came to Arlington National Cemetery on July 21, 2023 to learn about ANC’s Education Program and using the materials in the classroom. The teacher workshop provided educators with five professional development hours and was led by ANC’s History Office and members of the cemetery’s contract education team.
The workshop used lesson plans and tours developed for the African American History education module, which is available on ANC’s education website. The group visited many sites around the cemetery that are featured in the module, including Section 27, the gravesite of formerly enslaved James Parks and the graves of numerous prominent Black Americans, such as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
In addition to the tour, the workshop included in-depth discussions on using ANC education materials, bringing school groups to the cemetery, and promoting the cemetery to schools. Throughout the workshop, there were free and productive exchanges between the teachers and the ANC team.
Historians Stephen Carney and Allison Finkelstein served as subject matter experts during the cemetery tour. “We focused on some of the specific individuals and the history of various cemetery sites like Freedman’s Village,” said Carney, referencing the Civil War era community where formerly enslaved people lived and learned trades, some remaining until the turn of the 20th century.
The history and education teams also learned a great deal from the participants as the teachers shared their field trip experiences and challenges. “It was great to hear their insights,” said Sarah Blake, ANC’s contract director of education. “They helped us structure future cemetery visits in a meaningful way for students.” Emily Rheault, the team lead for ANC’s curriculum design agreed. “We spend so much time talking to adults and thinking about adults,” she said, “that it’s nice to talk to people who spend all their time thinking about kids.”
After hearing from the teachers, Crystal Monson, also with the education team, changed her view on the potential difficulties of bringing students to the cemetery. “I now see the cemetery as an opportunity to teach etiquette and respect,” she said.
The teachers’ enthusiasm impressed Carney. “I was blown away that teachers drove in from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and flew in from Omaha, Nebraska,” he said. “Their interest and support really inspired me.”
The teachers came away from their day at ANC impressed with what they learned and excited to implement it. “I got a lot of information I didn’t know before and ways of executing,” said Alicia Griffin, “and I think that’s the best part about it.” Karen Watson, a homeschool teacher, talked about teaching all aspects of American history. “We can’t be afraid to talk about the hard things,” she said. And as for using ANC as a teaching tool, she added, “no place is pristine, but that adds to the beauty of it.”
ANC’s Education Program, launched in the summer of 2020, currently features a dozen individual “modules” on themes ranging from military intelligence to horticulture and the environment. Stay tuned for more to be added in the coming year! Materials include lesson plans, recommended readings, walking tours for in-person or virtual exploration of the cemetery and much more.