Pioneer Immersion Program

Program in the schools: February-May 2017
Exhibition of Projects: May 15-21, 2017
Open House: May 18, 2017, from 4:30-6:30 p.m., free admission, everyone invited.

Exhibition of Projects and Open House

The pioneer projects and journals that local fourth graders make during the program form a special exhibition so that parents, friends, relatives, and the community can view the student’s work. Everyone is invited to view and celebrate this fantastic show. The students are always so proud to see their work in a real museum exhibition.

The Program

Vesterheim’s Pioneer Immersion Program is an innovative cooperative effort between the museum and area schools.

The Immersion Program uses the Norwegian-American experience as a jumping-off point for exploring the experiences of other immigrant groups during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Students use artifacts, archival materials, and hands-on activities to gain a better understanding of what it meant for immigrants to journey from their homelands and establish new lives in America.

The program includes instruction in the school classrooms and a series of Vesterheim visits in which students explore the museum and participate in several pioneer activities.

“Students look forward to the Vesterheim Immersion Program every year,” Karen Van Der Maaten, fourth-grade teacher at Carrie Lee Elementary School in Decorah, said. “It gives them an opportunity to experience what life was like as an immigrant in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The hands-on activities and projects make history come alive for the students,” she explained.

Prior to their visits to the museum, the students create immigrant identities for themselves, using immigrant diaries, documents, and other sources. The students record their impressions and thoughts in their own journals as they take part in packing an immigrant trunk, constructing a “log” home, and completing a series of typical chores.

Along with their journals, students create projects related to immigrant and pioneer history, and they often enlist the help of parents, grandparents, and other family and friends in doing so, making it a valuable intergenerational experience. “The Pioneer Immersion Program is the optimal blend of object-based learning, national education standards, local curricula, and fun,” said Jennifer Kovarik, Vesterheim’s Youth Educator. “The teachers and museum staff begin with the common goal of providing student-centered activities, and the result has been positive and engaging concrete experiences that facilitate critical thinking and creativity.”

Iowa school districts that have participated in the program in the past include Decorah Community Schools, North Winneshiek School, Trinity Catholic School in Protivin, St. Benedict School in Decorah, and Notre Dame Catholic School in Cresco.

For more information about the Vesterheim Pioneer Immersion Program and how your school can participate, please contact Jennifer Kovarik at, or 563-382-9681, ext. 219.

In 2017, the program is funded by the 2016 Deck the Tables event.