Crissy Gentry is pictured going over the kit of reproduction artifacts that she was given in her classroom at Greenfield Elementary School.
Photo by Aila Boyd

By Aila Boyd

Crissy Gentry, a fourth-grade teacher at Greenfield Elementary School, spent part of the summer participating in the 2019 Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Summer Teacher Institute.

The experience took her to Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum, for four days last month where she was able to gain a deeper understanding of what life was like during the early days of the 17th century at the first permanent English Colony in the Americas. Starting this school year, she will be able to take some of the information that she learned and infuse it into her lesson plans.

“It was a very immersive and hands-on experience,” Gentry said.

She explained that it was nice to get to have the tables turned on her. Instead of doing the teaching, she was able to dive in head-first and soak up the wealth of knowledge that the experience had to offer.

Gentry, who was one of only 20 educators from Virginia who participated in the institute, explained that the selection process was thorough. She was required to submit an application and a letter of recommendation from the school principal.

She noted that she primarily wanted to participate in the institute because she didn’t feel quite as strong in the subject area as she would have liked. Now, after having been a part of the institue, she said that she’s prepared to bring back when she learned and share it with her students.

The institute included tours of the museum’s exhibition galleries and outdoor living history areas, including a re-created Powhatan Indian village, 1607 ships and a 1610-14 Colonial fort, as well as numerous academic presentations and lesson development workshops. Some of the programs that Gentry participated in included “Kindling a Spark,” “Home on the James,” and “A Sea Grammar,” which was a hands-on program featuring 17th-century seamanship on board Jamestown Settlement’s recreated Godspeed. The programs were designed to help students acquire new skills in cooperative learning, critical thinking and problem-solving. She also learned about historical clothing, interpretation theory and methods, Powhatan Indian culture, the origins of the Jamestown colony, indentured servitude, slavery, and trade among the Powhatan Indians and English.

According to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, “Correlated with the Virginia Standards of Learning and national curriculum objectives, the institute emphasized authentic learning activities, including interactive, inquiry-based methods of teaching American history. A major component of the program was the opportunity for teachers to develop project-based learning experiences and collaborate with other teachers and history professionals.”

Out of everything that she learned, she said that she probably took the most away from hearing about the dynamics of relations between the Africans, English, and Powhatans.

At the end of the institute, participants were sent back to their classrooms with kits of reproduced artifacts. Including maps, documents, fabric samples, kindling kits, and various other tools, the kits provide students the opportunity to get to physically interact with the history that they’re studying.

“I’m very thankful I got to go. Most teachers don’t have the opportunity experience something like this,” Gentry said.


Gentry shared some photos from her experience: