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July 2, 2014

$1 Million Gift to Colonial Williamsburg Supports American History, Civics and Literacy Initiative for New York Teachers

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- A $1 million gift to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation will support a new, six-year initiative to invigorate the teaching of American history and civics in New York State schools, Foundation president and CEO Colin Campbell announced this week.

To launch the program, Colonial Williamsburg is collaborating with the Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University on a program that will enable teachers to incorporate American history into their reading, writing and critical thinking lessons.

The gift from Abby M. O’Neill, a senior Foundation trustee and Teachers College trustee emeritus, will provide yearly scholarships for 20 educators to attend a six-day Institute in American History and Content Area Literacy, as well as participate in a variety of professional development workshops or online distance learning courses. Enrollment preference is given to teachers from New York City and Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island.

Held in Williamsburg, the pilot session of the Institute in American History and Content Area Literacy will take place July 6-11. During this program, fourth-grade teachers will learn to integrate American history and civics education into their reading and writing curricula. They will use written primary sources, prints and paintings, and historical objects to analyze – and ultimately, to assume – the roles of 18th-century individuals. Participants will investigate the lives and choices of these people on the eve of the Revolution, including their monumental decision to become a patriot or loyalist when the outcome of America’s struggle was anything but predictable.

“Tight budgets and an emphasis on test performance in reading and math are squeezing history and social studies out of the country’s schools,” said Colonial Williamsburg President and CEO Colin Campbell. “Understanding the story of our country’s founding and its guiding principles builds critical skills for future citizens and leaders of our country. We are committed to revitalizing the teaching of American history – in New York, and across the nation – and as part of that, we want to help these teachers integrate American history directly into their reading and writing instruction.”

“The initiative would not be possible without Mrs. O’Neill’s generosity, and we are deeply grateful for her commitment to both institutions’ work to educate informed, inquisitive citizens,” Campbell added.

Mrs. O’Neill, of Oyster Bay, New York, is the granddaughter of Colonial Williamsburg founder John D. Rockefeller Jr., and is herself among Colonial Williamsburg’s most generous supporters. She served the institution as a trustee for 28 years starting in 1966 and in 1992 became the first recipient of the Foundation’s highest award for service, leadership and stewardship: the Churchill Bell.

“I have been involved in education for many years, so supporting this collaboration of Colonial Williamsburg and the Teachers College program is a natural fit for me,” Mrs. O’Neill said. “My goal is to support extraordinary teachers, especially those that show a commitment to teaching in New York City. This program will allow educators across multiple disciplines to discover new methods of teaching – and inspiring – their students about our country’s past.”

Other O’Neill gifts include donations for the Charles R. Longsworth Endowment for Outreach and for the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, which opened in 1997 at Colonial Williamsburg’s Bruton Heights School Education Center.

The Institute in American History and Content Area Literacy is the newest expansion of the 25-year Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, which serves educators from across the nation. The program hosted its first class in 1990 and now welcomes approximately 400 elementary, middle and high school teachers each summer for six-day sessions filled with workshops and interpreter-led visits to the Revolutionary City and other historic sites. Nearly 8,000 educators from all 50 states have attended the program — 82 percent of them on scholarships — reaching an estimated 3.5 million students.

The new session for New York teachers is expected to continue with support for scholarships at least through 2019. After each year’s summer session, participants will have follow-up sessions either in their district or through distance learning.

“This is an opportunity for New York teachers to work with organizations known for expertise in American history and teaching literacy not just as a process, but as a way to think and to analyze and evaluate information — the essential skills for American citizenship,” said Bill White, Colonial Williamsburg’s Royce R. and Kathryn M. Baker vice president for productions, publications and learning ventures.

Starting in the 2015-16 school year, Colonial Williamsburg is also slated to host a teacher professional development workshop in New York.

Media Contact:
Joe Straw