Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Student Group Tour magazine will continue to provide ideas for planning educational travel. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Thomas Jefferson is well-known as the primary author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States. But students gain a deeper understanding of the American figure and his diverse interests at Monticello, his former estate located near Charlottesville, Virginia.

For a quick glimpse of Monticello, all one has to do is take a close look at the back of a nickel. Monticello, a National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the center of Jefferson’s world. The 5,000-acre plantation included the neoclassical house he designed himself atop a small mountain, an ornamental landscape, a farm, and a community of his extended family and Monticello’s enslaved community.

“At Monticello, we focus on three main themes: Jefferson as a nation builder, Monticello as a plantation and a home to the enslaved, and Monticello as an architectural icon,” said Linnea Grim, director of education and visitor services.

Guided tours of Jefferson’s home give students access to the authentically furnished interior, as well as his gardens, workrooms and storage areas. Students also explore Mulberry Row — the center of plantation activity in Jefferson’s time — and the Thomas Jefferson Visitor Center’s theater and museum galleries. 

Monticello, Charlottesville, Va.
Credit: ©Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

A variety of guided field trip programs are available.

“The Roundabout Monticello program leads to really great discussions,” Grim said. The 2½-hour program explores Monticello’s public and private spaces and highlights the people who lived and worked there over 200 years ago. This program provides an introduction to Monticello as a working plantation and architectural icon, and to Jefferson as a Founding Father and man of the Enlightenment. 

Grim said students often wrestle with the difficult history Monticello presents in telling the story of Jefferson, the slave owner.

“We love seeing middle and high schoolers here,” Grim said. “It’s so important to connect with students about this important history.”

On average, 55,000 students visit Monticello every year, with two-thirds of those visitors coming from outside of Virginia. Grim said Monticello is a great stop as part of a larger historic tour of the East Coast.

“We provide a good grounding in American history,” she said. “So much of what students see elsewhere relates back to Thomas Jefferson.”

Student groups should plan to spend two to four hours at Monticello. Reservations are required as early as possible. Monticello’s busy season is March through the end of May, as well as July, October and November. An on-site cafe offers group lunches. Motorcoach parking is available.

For more information, call 434-984-9879 or visit monticello.org.