Peoria teacher headed to White House for exclusive institute

The White House History Teacher Institute promotes public access to American history. (Photo courtesy the White House History Teacher Institute)

Glendale Preparatory Academy teacher Michael Gonzalez will soon visit Washington, D.C., thanks to the White House History Teacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes public access to American history.

From July 22 through July 26, Gonzalez will visit historic site, learn about education resources and technology, and listen to talks from historians and former White House staff.

In his fourth year at the Peoria school, Gonzalez teaches science, American history and ancient Greek language.

“I just love working with people and teaching people and learning,” Gonzalez said. “Whenever you teach, you get better and you learn more. That’s what pushes me everyday.”

When Gonzalez was a college student, he studied chemistry. But with the help of his roommate, he discovered a love for history, continuing down that path for the next four years.

He was discovered by Great Hearts’ Glendale Prep during his senior year, but he decided to take a detour.

“I was basically going to be hired, but I decided to go to the University of Chicago to get my master’s degree just to quickly get that out of the way,” Gonzalez said.

“Once I came back, Great Hearts still wanted me. They helped me pursue that career, and ever since I’ve been wanting give back with teaching.”

While most teachers may use summertime as a vacation away from the classroom, some look for academic programs and conferences around the country that could benefit them leading into the next school year.

Gonzalez was inspired by one of his colleagues, who travels to programs like the White House History Teacher Institute. He decided to apply.

“I thought it would be nice to do something with my time and learn over the summer,” Gonzalez said. “I found the (White House History Teacher Institute), and I thought it was really interesting. I teach American history, but I don’t know too much about the history of, say, the building itself. I just want to know more and be able to share with my students.”

Sixty teachers were chosen out of 125 applicants for the teacher institute. Being apart of this program gives a sense of validation for Gonzalez.

“I didn’t know how broad the search was, and it didn’t really hit me until I got the email,” Gonzalez said. “I feel good about it. I’m glad they recognize that I have a passion and that I bring something to the table. Maybe I am doing the right thing — teaching is tough — but it’s things like this that I want to do and I love pursuing. This really reinvigorates my passion.”

Whitney Hayne, director of education for the White House Historical Association, said the program will include lectures from White House historians; lectures from authors and talks from former White House employees including former social secretaries.

Participants will tour sites including the White House, Library of Congress, National Portrait Gallery and more. She also said teachers will be able to participate in activities that can be brought back to the classroom.

“We have our classroom resource packets, which are 30 different downloadable PDFs that contain a short essay, primary source images and some classroom activities to go along with topics,” Hayne said. “(The teachers) get to look at those and provide us with comments and feedback.”

The White House History Teacher Institute also highlights the incorporation of technology, and just last year the White House Experience app was launched. Hayne said the app includes virtual tours of the White House, companion tours, and a tour of the White House neighborhood. She said the teachers will be able to get an exclusive look at this app and its unreleased features.

“They get to provide us with feedback for the app, and also get to test out new content that we haven’t even launched yet,” Hayne said. “They’ll get to really provide us with feedback that they we should add to it or things their students would like.”

The White House History Teacher Institute will pay for Gonzalez’s housing and meals. For Gonzalez, this is a dream come true.

“I haven’t been to D.C. since the eighth grade, so it’s time to go back, especially if they’re going to basically be hosting me out there. It’s a great opportunity.”

Gonzalez hopes that he can bring back more knowledge to his students and make learning history more than just textbook facts.

“They know the White House, they know it’s a building out in Washington, D.C., where the president lives, but they don’t know the small details that make it a living building or a living piece of history,” Gonzalez said. “That’s what I want to bring to my students — to make it a living piece of history.”