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Montpelier helping teach Constitution
With 3,000 people participating in sessions each year, Montpelier's Center for the Constitution is growing

 Montpelier is spending millions to restore and reuse some of the barns on the Orange County estate.
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Date published: 2/14/2010

By Rob Hedelt

THE HIGH-POWERED journalists and academics spent two days on the topic "The Madisonian System in Modern America: Is It Broken?" At one point they discussed whether Congress is broken and how to fix it.

But when participants in the seminar at Montpelier's Center for the Constitution took a short walk from their classroom to the home of James and Dolley Madison, even seasoned pundits and academics were awestruck.

It was when they visited a study in the Orange County mansion where Madison once sat, looked at the mountains in the distance and worked out ideas that would become the foundation for our nation's new government.

"This is where it all began," said one participant, referring to Madison's work in drafting the Constitution. "What he drew up here guides how we live today."

Sean O'Brien, executive director of the Center for the Constitution at James Madison's Montpelier, said that's the intangible that has helped bring 3,000 people to programs it has offered, on site and off, in its eight years of operation.

The majority of those people have been teachers, who have traveled to the 2,700-acre complex from all over the country for introductory or graduate-level seminars aimed at helping them teach the Constitution.

The program hosts educators on the Montpelier grounds for sessions lasting several days, underwrites their cost and provides teachers with recertification hours and teaching materials.

O'Brien noted that while providing classes to teachers will continue to be a major focus--to date, they've come from all 50 states--expanding programs for other key role-players in the U.S. and beyond is a big part of the center's future.

"We've had programs for judges, lawyers, members of the General Assembly, police chiefs and officers, journalists and different sorts of groups from around the world," O'Brien said. "The thinking is that we help give information to integral members of society that can impact others with that knowledge."

He added, "We even recently hosted Gov. [Bob] McDonnell and his staff for a short retreat before he took office," he said.

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