Vesterheim’s Pioneer Immersion Program is an innovative cooperative effort between the museum and area schools.
The Pioneer 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 in the past and how that experience compares to those of immigrants today.
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.
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 experiences 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. Students have a week-long exhibition of their projects and journals at Vesterheim each May.
The Pioneer Immersion Program is the optimal blend of object-based learning, national education standards, local curricula, and fun. 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.
The program is funded in 2020 by Voltmer Electric, Gerad Voltmer, with addition support from Richard and Barbara Amundson, Joann Voltmer, and Ruth Ann Schultz.