By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Jacquelyn Burt qualifies as a history buff.
Spend 20 minutes with the Pope John XXIII Regional High School social studies and fine arts teacher and you will find out that she has been to 49 of the 50 states, has visited the famous historical landmarks for each one and goes into great detail on a variety of topics, which is all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to her knowledge.
“To me, history is alive and invigorating,” Burt said. “It offers guidance to us while being exciting, romantic and real.”
Starting today, Burt will get to witness what slavery was like at George Washington’s Mount Vernon when she participates in a four-day, residential program run by the George Washington Teacher Institute. Burt will attend, “Slavery in George Washington’s World,” a program in which participants collaborate with Mount Vernon’s knowledgeable historians, curators, and educators while on site.
“To me, so much of what makes history fascinating is the ability to go to the physical site because you obtain a completely different perspective,” Burt said. “No matter how much you have read or been instructed, being there on site is something you can’t replicate. To be able to live at Mount Vernon from Wednesday to Sunday and to learn more about this part of history is just mind-blowing.”
Burt was one of 21 teachers across the nation to be selected to participate in the program on slavery. Burt and the teachers will explore the lives of the over 300 enslaved individuals who lived and worked at Mount Vernon during the 18th century.
Burt will also be the second Pope John faculty member to attend a program at the George Washington Teacher Institute within less than a year. Mrs. Judith Zoeller, the school’s Media Specialist for the Biondo Media Center, attended “First in Business: George Washington, Mount Vernon and the New Nation” back in July 2017.
“I’m so grateful to Pope John for letting me do this,” Burt said. “I’m grateful to Judith Zoeller for letting me know about this amazing experience. I couldn’t have done it without their help.”
“We are very proud of Mrs. Burt and all of the work that she has done,” Pope John President and Principal Father McHugh said. “She is an excellent teacher and a great director of Pope John’s theatrical productions. We are excited that she has been accepted to this program. It is a difficult to get accepted into this program. We hope that she enjoys this experience, and makes our school and our students better for it.”
Burt earned her spot in the program after going through a competitive application process. Applicants had to submit two letters of recommendation, two letters of support, an online application and a resume while also fulfilling other criteria
Burt certainly had the credentials to be selected to the program.
Burt graduated from Harvard University in 1984 with a degree in History and, after a brief stint working on Broadway, with her law degree from Loyola University of Chicago School of Law in 1988. After practicing law for several years, Burt worked at Seton Hall University School of Law and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University over the next 14 years, as an adjunct professor and director of career services at Seton Hall and the assistant dean at Cardozo.
Then in 2004, Burt did a “post 9-11 career change” and decided to work at Pope John, where she teaches seven courses: AP U.S. Government, Honors U.S. History I, U.S. History I, U.S. History II, History of Great Trials and Theatre Arts. In addition, she has helped developed new courses, teaches in the summer, has created the school’s largest extra-curricular activity group in the Pope John Players where she directs all the theatrical productions annually, runs the a capella group “The American Spirit”, and advises FBLA.
Burt’s efforts have helped students not only succeed in the classroom, but become one of the state’s best teachers in her subject areas, as evident of her 2015 Sussex County Daughters of the American Revolution North Jersey “Teacher of the Year” award, her 2015 New Jersey Daughters of the American Revolution second-place honor and the multiple awards her students earned at the State Teen Arts festival.
Throughout all of her experience, Burt has relied on that passion for history, something her grandfather taught her when she was growing up.
“He was a fanatic reader of history,” Burt said. “He felt the key to being an educated person was reading history books. I am grateful to my parents for taking me to the sites that he encouraged me to read about.”
When it comes to the Mount Vernon program she will be attending, Burt said she has already been preparing for it, reading Ron Chernow’s book on Washington and a number of articles on the topic that the George Washington Institute has provided to her. Burt also said the book sent by Mount Vernon, “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon,” fueled her enthusiasm for the program and affirmed her belief how important it is to correctly teach the topic of slavery to students.
“Teaching slavery and the Founding Fathers is at a critical juncture in 2018,” Burt said. “You must convey the incredible and important contributions of our Founding Fathers, who also participated in this reprehensible, albeit legal institution and to communicate to the students the dichotomy that they struggled with. If it is not taught and mentioning slave holders becomes taboo, you not only disrespect the lives of our Founding Fathers, but you ignore the opportunity to discover the context of the brave efforts of those enslaved persons who worked for them.”
As prepared as she feels, Burt is looking to take in the entire experience at Mount Vernon.
“I think this will be a whole other level of awesome,” Burt said. “I’m a travel fanatic. I’ve been to every state except Alaska, which I’m dying to go visit. While this is my third trip to Mount Vernon and I’ve loved each visit ... there will be nothing like this.”
Burt is a married resident of Sparta and the proud mother of a daughter who is a US Army officer and a Pope John graduate son who is a junior at Harvard.