Discovering local history: Older students teach about the past to area fifth graders

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Starting last Friday and ending Wednesday, fifth graders from around the area have had the opportunity to visit the Freeborn County Historical Museum, Library and Village for the annual Discover History Days.

“My students, juniors and seniors in my humanities social class, have been researching 12 topic areas,” said Jim Haney, Albert Lea High School social studies teacher. “… They have been putting together a presentation for fifth graders from across Freeborn County.”

Student research was focused on the time period from 1858 (around the start of Freeborn County) to 1911, and topics included — but were not limited to — log cabins, occupations, school, general stores and churches. 

“They’re making presentations, they’re developing lesson plans,” he said, referring to his juniors and seniors.

Besides lecturing fifth graders, Haney wanted his students to present hands-on activities for the elementary school students.

“For example, trying to make ice cream, a different way to do it,” Haney said.

Other activities included sack races and shaves.

“The juniors have to work with mentors, and they have to work with me,” he said. “They have to work with a partner, and they have to work with the fifth graders.

“Plus they research history that is kind of forgotten. We don’t teach Freeborn County history, so they learn a little bit about that.” 

His biggest goal for his students, besides learning history, was for them to develop confidence in presentations, learn how to organize lessons and develop presentation skills.

“They’ll have to make [presentations] probably in their lifetimes, so that’s probably going to help them,” he said. “Then also just working with people. They have to work with their mentors, they have to work with each other, they have to work with the fifth-graders.” 

His greatest satisfaction was watching his students make material come alive for younger students.

Haney has been having Discover History Days, something he called a multi-generational project, for 25 years, but because he taught AP Government last year he didn’t do this. He estimated 120 of his students would participate, while 150 to 170 fifth graders from St. Theodore, Halverson, Hawthorne, Lakeview and Sibley would visit. Only about 30 of Haney’s students participated on any given day. 

For Stephanie Kibler, executive director for the museum, library and village, this was her second time helping with the event.

“The real treat of this is  the day the fifth graders are here and seeing how they interact with these juniors and seniors in high school and how well these high school students suddenly take on the persona of being an instructor or teacher, a leader,” she said.

Travis Drescher was at the village on Monday serving as a mentor.

“I’ve always thought it’s a really good program,” he said. “We’re lucky to have a program like this here at our local historical society. It’s a great program to get the area fifth graders to come here and experience some of the stuff here at the museum, and it’s a good experience for juniors and seniors to be able to act as a teacher for a day.”

Senior Vayda Stadheim, who admitted to looking forward to teaching part of the event since she experienced it as a fifth grader herself, was put in charge of the general store Monday when students at Lakeview were visiting.

“It’s been really fun and really rewarding getting to teach these kids about local history, and [I] get to learn more myself too,” she said.

Fifth grader Alana Hetig admitted she was looking forward to going to the museum and enjoyed seeing the schoolhouse.

“We got to learn when you couldn’t flip a switch to turn the lights on, you’d have to use gases and stuff,” she said.

And like Stadheim, Hetig thought she might  like to participate in the teaching portion of the presentations when she was older.

Friday, students from Hawthorne attended, while Lakeview fifth graders were there Monday. Tuesday students from St. Theodore, Hollondale Christian and Halverson were at the museum. Wednesday students from Sibley are scheduled to visit.