Allyson Chamberlain, a music teacher at Moten Elementary School in Washington, plays the gyil, a traditional African instrument, during a trip to Ghana. (From Allyson Chamberlain)

Early in the summer, just after schools closed in Loudoun County, Virginia, Kelly Hoover took a trip to Montpelier. The 18th-century Virginia estate was once home to President James Madison and his wife, Dolley; now, it’s a national landmark where visitors such as Hoover can walk the halls of the Madisons’ restored mansion and learn how archaeologists are uncovering more of the estate’s history.

Hoover, who leads the gifted program at River Bend Middle School in Sterling, wanted to know more about the archaeological work.

“Asking a lot of questions and showing curiosity paid off,” she told KidsPost.

A staff member at the estate’s archaeology lab invited her to apply for a new week-long program in which teachers get to dig with the pros.

Kelly Hoover, who leads the gifted program at River Bend Middle School in Sterling, participates in an archaeological dig at the Montpelier estate. (From Kelly Hoover)

While most kids enjoyed their summer by hanging out at the park or going to the pool, teachers such as Hoover mixed work and play, traveling across the region — or even the world — to search for new experiences they could use in the classroom.

Crouched on the grounds of an old outdoor kitchen at Montpelier, Hoover learned “all the steps in the archaeological process” — including how to identify a potential excavation (or “dig”) site, sift through soil and clean centuries-old artifacts.

Hoover said she now has “firsthand knowledge” and “authentic stories” to share with kids in an archaeology unit that she teaches at River Bend.

Maria Wallace, a Spanish and French teacher at Esperanza Middle School in Lexington Park, Maryland, spent about three weeks in the small French town of Cotignac (pronounced CO-teen-YAK) in an effort to sharpen her language skills and “bring authenticity” to her French classes, she said.

In a notebook, she wrote down French words that she learned, as well as the stories of people she met. Wallace said she plans to share their photos and stories — of selling herbs in the market or working at the local boulangerie (bakery) — with her eighth-grade students, in an effort to help kids make “real-world connections that they can relate to.”

Allyson Chamberlain, a music teacher at Moten Elementary School in Washington, hopes to encourage similar connections after spending three weeks in Ghana. As part of a workshop called Orff-Afrique, she learned traditional Ghanaian dances and games and played on African instruments such as the gyil (JILL), which is similar to a xylophone.

“My students are predominantly African American,” she said, “so I believe it’s really important for them to access music from the African continent.”

Maria Wallace explores a lavender field near the French town of Cotignac. Wallace is a French and Spanish teacher at Esperanza Middle School in Lexington Park, Maryland. (From Maria Wallace)

Chamberlain led a school performance of the musical “The Lion King” last year and plans to teach kids some African drumming patterns she learned, as well as Ghanaian hand-clapping games.

Other teachers didn’t have to travel quite so far to learn something new. Scot Braun, a U.S. history teacher at Belmont Ridge Middle School in Leesburg, Virginia, toured the western United States with his parents to visit historic sites such as Montana’s Little Bighorn Battlefield, where Army troops clashed with Native Americans in 1876.

Lisa Allan, a self-described “history geek” who teaches fourth grade at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia, spent a week at Colonial Williamsburg as part of a teachers workshop. She occasionally dresses up as a Colonial reenactor during the school year — and invites her students to do the same — and now has new stories to tell about Colonial life.

It’s more fun to learn about early U.S. history from someone dressed as explorer John Smith, she said. And it’s more memorable.

“Come that dreaded test time,” Allan added, “they remember me standing in front of them in a silly outfit.”