2009-06-13 / Top News

Students Head West in 'Pioneer' Project

Young students at Mackinac Island Public School, standing in front of a hand-made map of America, are participating in an interactive project about American pioneers this spring. They will learn history, organization, financing, and family values and responsibilities. Pictured are (front, from left) Harrison Myers, Macade Ferguson, Leon Sehoyan, Ella Cowell, Ava Sehoyan, Brooke Dziobak, Dominic Morse, Gabriel Hepker; (back) Hannah Styburski, Grace Roguska, Todd Massaway, Sadie Johnson, MaKenna Horricks, Nicholas Davis, Aaron Riggs, Brooke'lyn Holder, and Cheyla Shunk. Young students at Mackinac Island Public School, standing in front of a hand-made map of America, are participating in an interactive project about American pioneers this spring. They will learn history, organization, financing, and family values and responsibilities. Pictured are (front, from left) Harrison Myers, Macade Ferguson, Leon Sehoyan, Ella Cowell, Ava Sehoyan, Brooke Dziobak, Dominic Morse, Gabriel Hepker; (back) Hannah Styburski, Grace Roguska, Todd Massaway, Sadie Johnson, MaKenna Horricks, Nicholas Davis, Aaron Riggs, Brooke'lyn Holder, and Cheyla Shunk. Brooke'lyn Holder, a second grade student at Mackinac Island Public School, was having a typical day at school Wednesday, April 29, until she learned two of her family's oxen were killed by lightning during the night. Such is the kind of tragedy families faced in America's pioneer days, as elementary students at the school are learning through a role-playing, interactive project.

Elementary teachers Vicki Urman and Laura Eiseler split up the students in kindergarten through third grade into "families," who then role play as a father, a mother, or children, and are given a budget and a daily list of goals as the families try to make their way from Independence, Missouri, to Fort Vancouver in Oregon, following their progress on a map drawn by the teachers.

Forty minutes of class time is dedicated each day to the Pioneers of America project, which teaches children history, and a sense of organization, financing, and daily lifestyle values and responsibilities, said Mrs. Urman.

Each family is quizzed with two questions a session. If they answer correctly, they get to choose a card from the "triumph" deck and move their family wagon forward on the map. Answer a question incorrectly, and the family must face a "tragedy," drawing a card from the other deck, which is what Miss Holder's family suffered.

"They're learning about life on the trail," said Ms. Eiseler. "They're learning about where they're going and what it takes to get there."

The students learned to make bandanas (for the boys) and bonnets (for the girls), churned butter, and even participated in a firewood scavenger hunt by walking around the school's playground collecting pine cones, substituting them for buffalo "chips" used by pioneers as fuel when firewood was scarce.

Students also simulated trading for goods with Native Americans and at forts along the way.

"It's just a fun way for them to learn," said Mrs. Urman.

She said once the families reach Fort Vancouver, the students will then learn to establish a community.

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