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Mount Vernon Awards Teacher Fellowships to Outstanding Educators

Six Educators Chosen to Conduct Research, Build Curricula at Mount Vernon

MOUNT VERNON, VA — George Washington’s Mount Vernon has selected six educators to participate in an incredible opportunity to enhance their 18th-century knowledge, explore different teaching techniques, and create new curricula for Mount Vernon during their residential fellowship at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Five teachers have been selected for The Life Guard Teacher Fellowship, which enables classroom teachers and educators to work on projects in a variety of themes inspired by the life, leadership, and legacy of George Washington. 

One teacher has been selected for the Reese Teacher Fellowship. This fellowship is awarded to a teacher whose project will connect high school students with text-based primary sources to increase student engagement with the history of the 18th century.

The Life Guard Teacher Fellows Program and The Reese Teacher Fellowship are facilitated by The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, which opened September 27, 2013. Located just outside the main entrance to Washington’s Virginia estate, the Library safeguards original Washington documents and serves as a center for scholarly research and leadership training.

The Life Guard Teacher Fellows Program is made possible by the generous support of The Life Guard Society, a select group of donors to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association who frequently champion education-based causes and initiatives. The Reese Teacher Fellowship is made possible by the William Reese Company. 

By offering funded residential study opportunities for classroom teachers and educators through its Library, Mount Vernon is taking an important step to improve the quality of history education, drawing renewed focus and interest on the founding era and on the remarkable traits and accomplishments of George Washington.  Applying the research they conduct at the estate, fellowship recipients will create and design curriculum materials, lesson plans, electronic media, and other educational materials that Mount Vernon produces and publishes digitally to support educators around the country. The 2017-2018 fellows will conduct on-site research on an array of topics, beginning this fall and continuing through summer 2018.  

The program is available to classroom teachers (grades K-12), curriculum specialists, media specialists, and to others with expertise in creating classroom materials. The next round of proposals for consideration are due February 28, 2018.

For more information about the Life Guard Teacher Fellows Program, please visit

Fellowship recipients include:

Bonnie Belshe, California - Life Guard Teacher Fellow

Belshe will be creating a series of lesson plans that will integrate women's history into the events of the American Revolution and the New Nation historical eras.  She will use Martha Washington as a case study with the support of Mount Vernon's rich primary sources in the library and the collection. 

Belshe is a Social Studies Department Chair and teaches US History and AP US History at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, CA.  She has been a three-time summer scholar for the National Endowment for the Humanities and was named the California History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in 2014. 

Micheal Larson, Wisconsin - Life Guard Teacher Fellow

Larson will develop a mini-unit of three lessons directed by the compelling question: “Did George Washington start a World War?”  He will collect primary and secondary sources for an analysis the role George Washington performed to the start the French and Indian War.  In the content rich activities, the students’ investigations take them through the many causes and consequences of Washington’s actions in 1753-54. 

Larson has taught in the School District of Menomonie for the past twenty-two years.  He teaches U.S. History and Global Perspectives. His primary emphasis is the Colonial Era through the U.S. Constitution during the regular school year and the twelve eras of U.S. History for night classes and summer classes.  He is an Executive Board Member of the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies and travels extensively to summer workshops and institutes on U.S. History.  

Nathan McAlister, Kansas - Life Guard Teacher Fellow

McAlister will focus on George Washington’s Native American policy during his presidency.  He will identify documents, players, and events that will help students analyze what became the groundwork for the United States and Native American policy in the decades and centuries that followed. 

McAlister will be teaching Civil War and US History survey class at Seaman High School this fall and has lead his students in several award winning historical preservation projects. He currently serves on the board of several state and national organizations.  In 2010, McAlister was named Kansas and National History Teacher of the Year by the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History. Additional honors include Educator of the Year by the Santa Fe Trail Association/National Park Service, Outstanding American History Teacher by the Kansas Daughters of the American Revolution, Gilder Lehrman Senior Education Fellow, and Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes, Fellow.

Matt Shomaker, Missouri - Life Guard Teacher Fellow

Shomaker will be developing a lesson where students will use clothing of the Washington family and the enslaved at Mount Vernon as a window into life on the estate.  Combining accounts, purchase orders, descriptions, probate lists, and material culture, this cross-curricular project will engage diverse source material to give students new ways to understand the operation of a Virginia plantation. 

Shomaker teaches 7th grade American History and History Lab at Clinton Middle School in Clinton, Missouri.  He also serves as Social Studies department chair, sponsors National Junior Honor Society, and provides professional development to building staff.  Shomaker is passionate about teaching with place and objects and has presented at multiple conferences, including the Missouri Council for the Social Studies and the National Council for the Social Studies.  He is an alumnus of the George Washington Teacher Institute and a 2016 Monticello Barringer Fellow.

Donella Smither, Arkansas - Life Guard Teacher Fellow

Smither will be creating an early elementary lesson plan that has students use inquiry and primary source materials to learn about race, slavery, and George Washington.  By integrating material culture sources, journaling, and reflection this project will be well-suited to introduce a difficult topic for young learners. 

Smither teaches 2nd grade at Alma Primary School in Alma Arkansas.  She has earned her National Board Certification and is an instructor in her school districts’ summer program.  Smither is an alumni of the Mount Vernon Teacher Institute where she took part in the inaugural residential teacher program on Slavery in George Washington's World.

Teresa Osborne, Oregon - Reese Teacher Fellow

Osborne will create lessons that provide students opportunities to examine the relationship between George Mason and George Washington.  These revolutionary contemporaries and neighbors provide a way to show how events of the revolution, the founding and the debate over ratification have an effect on lives and relationships in different ways overtime.

Osborne is currently the Department Head for Social Studies at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon and has taught courses including Advanced Placement Government, Economics, Advanced Placement European History, U.S. History, Modern World History and Media and Society. In 2001, Osborne was selected as the Oregon Council for the Social Studies High School Teacher of the Year. She has also developed curriculum for the Oregon History Center, Kinder Care Distance Learning, and has been an adjunct instructor at Portland Community College and Mt Hood Community College.


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