My Monticello Ancestors - a Program Leader's Remarkable Story

I must admit that I was a bit overwhelmed by the idea of the 8th grade trip I inherited when I started as a young teacher at our middle school. Our long-running trip to Washington D.C. is important to the students and parents, and I wondered how I was going to be able to accomplish so much for so many. Right away, I was pleased and relieved by all the assistance and guidance from the helpful team at WorldStrides. But I never imagined how much the trip would come to mean for me – not just as teacher, but as a granddaughter.

When I took over the trip, I was treated to a short visit to WorldStrides headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia to meet with my account manager and familiarize myself with the innerworkings of the company. It was there my special personal journey began.

A few months prior to my visit my grandmother had passed away. She and I were very close, and we did hours of genealogical research together. We talked in length about how our ancestors were simple farmers – likely from Virginia. When I arrived in Charlottesville, I recalled my time with her and looked quickly at the work she had collected. I realized then that my family was not only from Virginia, but from Charlottesville to boot! As I looked closer, I realized my ancestors, the Garretts, were actually buried at Monticello, the home of (my favorite) President Thomas Jefferson. During our visit with the WorldStrides team, we were going to Monticello the following day with our group. As a U.S. history teacher, a genealogy enthusiast, and a simple American, I was humbled by the discovery. During our visit, I continued to discover more, even finding out from one of our guides that the Garrett family once owned the property of President Monroe’s Highland – Ashlawn. I couldn’t believe it!

Astonished and in love with all of Charlotteville and my own personal roots there, I decided that I would take my classes. We expanded our usual D.C. trip itinerary to include a visit to Charlottesville and Monticello. There, WorldStrides provided my students with a fantastic learning experience, but also allowed me something that was even more memorable. Working closely with the Monticello Society, I was able to obtain the keys to President Jefferson’s private graveyard.

Reno unlocking the gates of the Monticello private graveyard

My students assisted me in laying six red roses on the graves of my ancestors. They were respectful and kind in this special moment, taking pictures and even crying with me as I left the graveyard. Students sometimes forget that teachers are also humans, with a life and a family outside of the classroom. I saw how this moment gave them a chance to see what it meant for someone to appreciate history, to connect to it, and why genealogy can really mean so much.

Shelby Reno visiting the graves of her ancestors at Monticello

For me, the experience was truly moving, and one that I can’t thank all involved enough for. It was a special marriage of the extraordinary help of my account manager, a deep love of history, and the experience of being at a wonderful site that’s an important piece of our nation’s history. I will remember that experience for a lifetime, and I know it would have made my grandmother incredibly happy. My journey as a Program Leader with WorldStrides has surprised me, enriched me, and made my life and lives of my students more whole in so many ways.


Shelby inside the private graveyard