Vesterheim Pioneer Immersion 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 case study and jumping-off point for exploring the experiences of other immigrant groups during the time period. 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 museum visits in which students tour the museum and participate in several pioneer activities.
The program will be fully funded through 2014, thanks to the generosity of Bonnie and Dan Huebner, Decorah, Iowa.
The Huebners have long recognized the vital role education plays in the life of Vesterheim. They were the primary donors in the renovation of Vesterheim's Westby-Torgerson Education Center in 2000 and established an endowment fund for major maintenance and improvements to that building, which is named for Bonnie Huebner's parents, Ben and Emma Westby Torgerson. Dan Huebner is a Vesterheim trustee.
"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 projects and journals form a special exhibition so that parents, friends, relatives, and the community can view the student’s work. This year's exhibition will be from May 13-19, with an Open House for the entire community on May 16.
“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, please contact Vesterheim at 563-382-9681 or email@example.com.