By Jason Klaiber
From July 5 to 12, a Fayetteville-Manlius School District educator attended the Ford’s Theatre Civil War Washington summer teacher institute.
For the program Eric Nash, a social studies and language arts teacher at Wellwood Middle School, visited historic sites in the Washington D.C. area alongside 23 other educators from across the country.
On the first day, the teachers paid a visit to Tudor Place, a mansion near the Georgetown neighborhood.
The program participants toured the mansion’s garden, learning about the women who struggled to gain ownership rights to the property and the slaves who once worked there.
Later in the night, a park ranger brought the group on a tour of the National Mall lasting three and a half hours.
Nash, who teaches fifth grade classes, said he tried to “slow down” and “soak in” moments like the walk up the Lincoln Memorial steps.
On the second day, the educators visited the over-3,000-square-foot Frederick Douglass residence, which sits prominently on a hill.
“I was shocked to learn that a formerly enslaved person was the owner of that home,” Nash said. “I remember feeling how incredible that must’ve been to have that power and the wealth to buy a home like that, to look physically down on the people that had looked down on you their entire lives.”
The third day of the program entailed a visit to Abraham Lincoln’s cottage, which has been stripped of its furniture.
The teachers sat on the cottage’s back porch, where Lincoln was known to read and play checkers with visitors.
The tour also led to Lincoln’s bedroom, where he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation.
According to Nash, one can look out the room’s windows and see the White House on one side and to the other the United States National Cemetery, where 30 to 40 Union soldiers were buried a day at one point in time.
On the fourth day, the group toured Ford’s Theatre—where Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865—and the Petersen House across the street, where the president later died.
Items on display included the gun John Wilkes Booth used to shoot Lincoln.
On the final day, the program instructors and the institute attendees created a web of yarn illustrating the non-linear path of history in advancing toward certain societal goals.
Each of the 24 educators also shared what made the biggest impact on them during the course of the week.
Nash said the word “agitate,” in the context of fighting for one’s rights, stuck with him after visiting the Frederick Douglass home.
“[Douglass] was a strong believer that in order to get your point across of what you believe is right, you have to agitate to get people to listen to you,” Nash said.
The summer program covered airfare and provided meals, hotel accommodations, shuttles to each historic location and gifts such as books.
For Nash, the trip marked his first time on an airplane as well as his introduction to Washington D.C.
“To be able to go to the nation’s capital and see everything for the first time with such experts was just overwhelming,” Nash said. “I’ve been to a lot of professional developments, and this one was so well-organized and so thoughtful. It was a first-class experience.”