In trips, teacher finds purpose

The teacher's summer travels had her explore the life of Thomas Jefferson and the horror of the Jewish Holocaust.

Published September 14, 2006

INVERNESS - Candace Sheldon became well acquainted with Thomas Jefferson this summer, and that was only part of her adventure.

Sheldon, who teaches U.S. government and reading at Inverness Middle School, applied for - and won - two fellowships for study opportunities during her break from school.

One was awarded by the Gilder Leherman Institute of American History, a nonprofit organization that holds its own collection of individual historical documents. Sheldon stayed at the University of Virginia and spent most of her time studying or listening to lectures at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, or at the International Center for Jefferson Studies.

Sheldon and 29 other teachers examined original Jefferson documents, dissected them and wrote lessons about them.

"It was so amazing," she said. "We came back with published booklets of 60 lesson plans about Thomas Jefferson original documents."

"Of all the Founding Fathers, he was very human," she continued. "He had many failings, but he was completely loyal to what he believed in. I came away with such a respect for him."

Sheldon's other fellowship was from the Belfor Foundation, which sponsors teachers to enhance instruction about the Holocaust. She went to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, where she had access to the museum, was allowed to take photographs and heard from Holocaust survivors, including Elie Wiesel, author of Night, his recollections of the time he spent in concentration camps.

"Walking through the museum by yourself is an experience that is wonderful and awful," she said. "You're just bombarded by how horrific that thing was, how unnecessary and how sad. But the museum did a wonderful job representing the victims, the perpetrators and the bystanders who did nothing."

She came back with a lot of resources. The Holocaust is taught in the eighth grade through literature, but, Sheldon said, some of her school's history teachers are teaming with language arts teachers to add more to the historical element.

"The other thing I came back with," she said, "was a renewed purpose about why I teach this."