Verdigris teacher calls living history an unforgettable experience

Verdigris Junior High School teacher Rhonda Cegielski (right) of Claremore meets Nanny Jones, an 18th-century slave portrayed by Colonial Williamsburg historical interpreter Valarie Gray Holmes.


Claremore resident Rhonda Cegielski, a teacher at Verdigris Junior High School, was among 36 educators selected by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence who participated in the 2019 Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute this summer.

These Oklahoma educators can hardly wait to return to the classroom after experiencing a week of historical immersion held at the restored capital of 18th – century Virginia.

“Visiting Yorktown was very emotional and to experience the hands-on living history as unforgettable. Visiting Jamestown and seeing the artifacts recovered from our first permanent colony brought a huge feeling of patriotism,” Cegielski said. “My knowledge and resources that I obtained will help my students gain more insight into the real lives of the men and women we study in our class. This was the best living history experience ever!”

While in Colonial Williamsburg – the world’s largest living history museum – Oklahoma teachers met character interpreters of 18th-century people – from Powhatan Indians and plantation slaves to British loyalists and Founding Fathers. Educators were immersed in early American history through hands-on activities and reenactments of historical events. This marks the 27th year that Oklahoma teachers have attended the institute through a fellowship program coordinated by the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence, a statewide nonprofit that recognizes and encourages academic excellence in public schools. Oklahoma is second in the nation, following California, in the number of teacher institute participants, with 1,044 graduates.

“My week in Williamsburg has been fantastic,” said Brooke Lee, a fifth-grade teacher at Pioneer Elementary School in Noble. “From meeting historical character interpreters and learning trades to exploring buildings, I have been immersed in the colonial history of our nation. My favorite part of the week was examining original documents in the special archive collection and exploring original structures.”

Lee said she feels better prepared to help her students understand the lives of everyday people who lived in the colonies and to help students “connect their lives today with historical moments that shaped our nation.”

This summer’s Oklahoma participants included 27 fifth-grade teachers and nine eighth-grade educators.

Oklahoma’s teacher institute program was founded and supported through the fundraising efforts of the late Oklahoma City businessman Edward C. Joullian III. A trustee of the Oklahoma Foundation for Excellence and former board member of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.