Two teachers from Avalon and Red Oak ISDs were selected to attend prestigious professional development institutes in Fort Worth and Houston.

The event was sponsored by Humanities Texas in partnership with Texas Christian University, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History and Rice University.

Valasta Smith teaches U.S. history, world history and English language arts at Avalon ISD, and participated in "The New American Republic: From Washington to Madison," which took place from June 10–13 on the TCU campus.

The institute covered the presidencies of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; the first U.S. Congress; Alexander Hamilton and the American economy; foreign policy and national defense; American women in the early nineteenth century; the Marshall Court; Native Americans in the expanding nation; slavery in the Early Republic and the War of 1812.

Ashlie Pape is a Red Oak High teacher who instructs English language arts, participated in "Teaching Shakespeare," which took place from June 17–20 on the Rice campus.

The institute covered topics including Shakespeare's world, works and the sources he drew upon in his writing; approaches to teaching the major tragedies, comedies and sonnets; and intersections between Shakespeare and Latinx drama. The institute also included presentations on developing engaging writing assignments that emerge from the study of Shakespeare's works.

"I attended 'Teaching Shakespeare' in hopes of receiving additional resources, knowledge and tools to implement in the classroom," Pape stated. "This institute provided so many more useful tools and a vast amount of perspectives, making it incredibly unique. I loved all of the individual ways in which people focus on and teach different aspects of Shakespeare because it allowed me to see different ways in which I could make it effective in the classroom."

Peggy O'Brien, director of education at the Folger Shakespeare Library, trained participants in performance-based teaching strategies. O'Brien worked with actors from the Houston Shakespeare Festival to demonstrate the interpretive possibilities of Shakespeare through performance.

J. Dennis Huston, Gladys Louise Fox Professor Emeritus of English at Rice University, delivered the institute's keynote lecture. The program faculty included distinguished scholars from universities and educational institutions across the nation.

"Humanities Texas was pleased to cosponsor the Fort Worth and Houston institutes," said Director of Grants and Education Eric Lupfer. "The programs offered teachers the opportunity to study with leading scholars and interact with colleagues from across the state. Participants left the institutes energized and equipped with training that will enhance student learning."

"The New American Republic: From Washington to Madison" and "Teaching Shakespeare" were made possible with support from the State of Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Humanities Texas is the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Its mission is to advance education through programs that improve the quality of classroom teaching, support libraries and museums and create opportunities for lifelong learning for all Texans.

For more information about Humanities Texas, visit