Teachers’ field trip: close-to-home immersion

This eight-day field trip was for teachers – 26 of them, from Arena to Waukesha – and the destination was Wisconsin, more than 1,000 miles of it.

The itinerary was a study of geology, culture, history and geography. Now each participant will take her impressions and knowledge into classrooms, kindergarten to adult special ed.

Much of the state’s first “Here at Home Tour” was of sites and businesses that are open to anybody. It has been about Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden, Fountain City, and St. Bede Monastery, Eau Claire. It was eating pasties at Joe’s in Rhinelander, custard at Le Duc’s drive-in in Wales, a Belgian lunch from Marchant’s in Brussels.

“We’ve tried to give an inside look at communities,” says Debbie Kmetz, project coordinator. Destinations included Hmong businesses in La Crosse, a fishery in Bayfield, cheese factory near Green Bay and taste of African-American heritage in Milwaukee’s Bronzeville.

Polkas at Casco’s Slovan Country Inn, bowling at Milwaukee’s Holler House and a workshop about fish decoys at Lac du Flambeau have been ways to better understand Wisconsin’s diversity and, as Debbie puts it, “feel a special sense of place” in towns large and small.

This is important to Kate Clausius, who teaches art to Wisconsin Dells elementary school students. The parents of many are minorities working in local resorts. Kate grew up in Richland Center, where almost all peers were Caucasian, and she wants to better understand other cultures that may be represented in her classroom.

“I hope you’ll think differently of some places because you’ve been there and have gotten to know the people a bit,” Kmetz told the group, before the traveling began.

Jan Nelson, who teaches German to high schoolers in Plymouth, says what she learns will be helpful during sister-state exchanges with Hessen, Germany. When visitors ask her “what else do you have in Wisconsin?” besides a German cultural influence, now she’ll have more answers.

Sonia Lee of Delavan says the tour will help her explain Wisconsin better to her bilingual classes. Kathleen Schmidt of Rhinelander considers it “a great adventure” to share with her kindergarten students.

The dialogue and enthusiasm are important for many reasons, including the preservation of cultural traditions. They could easily be discarded if younger generations don’t see their value.

The teachers ended their first day deep in the heart of Wisconsin’s coulee country, the southwestern Driftless Area where glaciers did not pass. Norskedalen, just north of Coon Valley, is a 453-acre arboretum upon which pioneer to early 1900s Norwegian farm buildings have been preserved.

This exquisite tribute to Norwegian culture exists because of about 100 volunteers, such as Clinton Bagstad, who knew the previous owners of some farm buildings.

Where does he live? “I never could get more than five miles away,” he jokes.

On the 400-acre Bekkum Homestead are a dozen buildings, including the outhouse, each representing an unusual log or stone architectural style. The granary has a sod roof. The spring house has water running through it. The log corn crib, built in 1870, is rare because of its notched style.

Just west of Coon Valley is the other Norskedalen property, the 53-acre Skumsrud Heritage Farm, whose restored pioneer log buildings include a furnished one-room schoolhouse.

“You don’t have to be Norwegian to appreciate it,” says Tammy Potaracke, business manager. Some people just come to hike the six miles of trails, including one-half mile that is accessible to the handicapped. The terrain is a mix of prairie and oak forest.

Upcoming Sunday programs are about abandoned churches, the prairie, making memories and ethnic music. An ice cream social is Aug. 27, and an old-fashioned threshing bee is Sept. 23. Among the heritage class topics are low relief woodcarving (July 22-23), flower pounding (July 29-30), fabric painting (Aug. 5-6), quilting for kids (Aug. 7-10) and Scandinavian knife making (Aug. 11-13).

Truly off the beaten path, Norskedalen also is a remarkable drive through well-preserved towns and peaceful valleys.

Just as of this summer, Norskedalen’s Paulsen Cabin can be rented. The rate for up to six people is $195 for a two-night weekend stay, $473 for a Monday through Saturday stay, or $84 for a weekday overnight. Those fees include use of the grounds during regular hours of business.

Plumbing and electricity have been added to this historic building, whose decor is described as “comfortable but authentic.” There is no TV, stove or handicapped accessibility.

For more: www.norskdealen.org, 608-452-3424. The property is about 15 miles southwest of La Crosse.

The “Here at Home Tour” was subsidized by a two-year grant from the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment. It will take place again next year. The cost to teachers who participated this year was $150.

The Wisconsin Arts Board and University of Wisconsin Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures developed the program. For more, contact Debbie Kmetz at dkmetz@wisc.edu or 608-262-8180.

Tour participants were: Sharon Jeardeau, math/reading/language/writing, River Valley Elementary School, Arena; Mary Berg, family/consumer education, and Theresa Charapata, social studies/communication arts, both of Parkview Middle School, Ashwaubenon; Sonia Lee, bilingual studies, Phoenix Middle School, Delavan; Kamie Kolb, family/consumer education, Northland Pines Middle School, Eagle River.

Lisa Ray-Christenson, family/consumer education, Hustisford Junior/Senior High School; Roxanne Neat, kindergarten, and Karin Jordan, special education, both of Jackson Elementary School, Janesville; Mary Newton, reading specialist, George S. Parker High School, Janesville.

Mari Fager, reading/language arts/social studies, Kewaunee Grade School; Kate Clausius, art, Lake Delton Elementary School; Beth Zingler, kindergarten, Lena Grade School; Christine Steinhagen, art, and Lila Schlorf, fourth grade, both of Luxemburg-Casco Intermediate School.

Jan Deadman, foods/child development, Madison East High School; Sara Whirry, math/social studies/science, Kate Goodrich School, Merrill; Jenny Eder, third grade, Jefferson Elementary School, Merrill; Barbara Finch, social studies/language arts, Fritsche LEAP Alternative Middle School, Milwaukee; Jan Nelson, German, Plymouth High School; Terry Hettenbach, bilingual/language arts/reading/history, Mitchell Middle School, Racine.

Kathleen Schmidt, kindergarten, Crescent School, Rhinelander; Kathy Marshall, fourth grade, and Bridget Bowers, media specialist, both of Sevastopol Elementary School; Georgie Vavra, reading specialist, Verona School District; Peggy White, special education, Lowell Elementary School, Waukesha; Amanda White, art/adult special ed, Donna Lexa Community Art Center and Lake Country Fine Arts School, Waukesha; Melissa Miescher, newly graduated University of Wisconsin-Madison education student.