Homestead unit a highlight

Posted on: May 9, 2018

Homestead unit a highlight

Fifth-graders are in the midst of a memorable rite of passage -- the homesteading unit that teaches American history and touches a wide variety of other academic disciplines while simulating life on the frontier.
 
The unit has become a 35-year tradition at Delano Middle School. Teachers don pioneer attire and delve into economics, math, music, language, science and social studies while sharing about the process of populating the plains.
 
“At one time there were so many homesteads around Delano,” said teacher Tom Berggren, who at 43 years of time in Delano has participated in the unit from the beginning. Homesteading was a process by which citizens were able to claim, improve and eventually own government lands. The Homestead Act was approved in 1862 and accelerated settlement after the Civil War.
 
“It’s been a very fun unit. The teachers like it and the kids really like it,” said Berggren. “It’s a chance for the kids to simulate what it’s like to farm, what a gamble it is. We talk about some economics like supply and demand. You might have a great corn year and then you don’t get any money for it because everybody’s got good corn. And sometimes if there are hardships somewhere else it’s good for you because then your cows or pigs are worth more.”
 
Students do extensive journaling and math work, buying crops and animals every year, then calculating what their income will allow them to do for the next farming year.
 
Aside from theoretical work that covers the process of making a profit on a farm, students also enjoy hands-on activities like making ice cream in Sue Wallinga’s room or learning different pioneer games. Teachers split up the fifth-graders and share about various aspects of the time period. John Bingea, for example, covers music. Jacob Olson shares about the Oregon Trail.
 
It all adds up to an experience that graduating seniors tend to mention as a highlight of their K-12 careers, along with other fifth-grade experiences like the Long Lake Conservation Trip.
 
Between construction and an early release date this year, staff members have been pressed to find space and time for the activities.
 
“This year is a little tougher because we’ve lost our commons area,” Berggren said. “We keep moving around. We’re in the amphitheater, the high school media, and the auditorium some of the time. We could be indoors, outdoors, anywhere this year, but we’re doing some fun things.”