Here at Home

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Teachers Experience Wisconsin’s Cultural Wealth

Ellis turns a crank

Ellis Nelson demonstrates his craft.(Photo by Josie Bowman)

It was only Day 3 of the eight day tour when Lila, a 4th grade teacher in Kewaunee County, reflected, “I always thought exploring other places was more interesting but I’ve come to realize that there is so much richness in this state, so much I didn’t know. Our students don’t need to travel 600 miles to see culture.”

Coming to a place of appreciation of Wisconsin’s cultural wealth is one of the intended destinations of the Here at Home Cultural Tours. For the past two years, these tours have taken a bus filled with Wisconsin teachers on a circle around the state, starting in Madison and returning eight days later. Over the miles and hours they interact with a wide range of people whose lives illustrate close ties to place and local lore. The cultural integrity they encounter inspires a deeper appreciation of the state and its curricular potential in many of the teachers.

Here at Home: A Wisconsin Cultural Tour for K-12 Teachers” is an intensive interdisciplinary eight-day professional development bus tour of Wisconsin offered by Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture. CSUMC is one of the co-sponsors, along with the Wisconsin Arts Board. CSUMC Associate Director Ruth Olson joined other resident instructors (Debbie Kmetz of WTLC, Anne Pryor of WAB, and Steve Ackerman of UW) on the bus both years to lead approximately twenty-five teachers and six UW students on visits to culturally centered people and places across Wisconsin.

The Here at Home Tour is premised on the idea that resources and content for teaching exist all around us -- in the local environment and landscapes, in family stories, in local music and artistic expressions, in community history, and contemporary social issues. The tour’s goal is that teachers, with new understandings of the richness and diversity of Wisconsin’s communities, will return home to understand their own community as a place to be explored and experienced in new ways with their students.

The Here at Home tour allows participants to experience directly the diverse cultures of Wisconsin through on-site guided tours, interaction with local residents, and community-based presentations.

Campfire on edge of lake

Teachers at Pigeon Lake Campfire (Photo by Josie Bowman)

The tour itinerary is especially designed for the needs of teachers and includes “inside the community” experiences not usually available to tourists or independent travelers. Participants gain a deeper awareness of the environmental and aesthetic forces that shape local culture. Some sample highlights of the tour include visiting the studio/home of Ellis Nelson, a nationally recognized visionary sculptor (Muscoda); experiencing the gender organization of artistic practices at a senior center for Hmong refugees where the women sew storycloths and traditional garments and the men forge hand tools in the only Hmong blacksmith shop in the nation (LaCrosse); exploring the architecture of a Belgian and Czech settlement area during the day and dancing to a popular old-time orchestra at night under the tutelage of the Happy Hoppers dance club (Door and Kewaunee Counties); listening to Brooks Big John, a traditional Ojibwe fish decoy carver, tell stories about his tribe’s struggles to regain lost treaty rights in relation to spear fishing (Lac du Flambeau reservation); listening to three generations in the Queens of Harmony perform a cappella gospel (northwest Milwaukee); and speaking with Mexican immigrant artist Juan Flores as we tour his murals in neighborhood restaurants and bakeries (southside Milwaukee).

Teachers on the tour were overwhelmingly positive in their evaluations, and many went on to incorporate their newly gained insights into their teaching. An April ’07 weekend retreat organized by WTLC and co-sponsored by CSUMC brought together participants from the 2006 tour. The first day of the retreat was spent on a cultural tour of Wausau; the second was devoted to teachers presenting on how they have brought local arts, culture and humanities into their teaching over the past academic year. Their incorporation of insights from the tour into curriculum ranged from a 4th grade art class that based sophisticated images on family stories to middle school documentation of maple sugaring traditions in Sebastopol.

Outdoor picnic amongst sculptures

Enjoying Lunch at Prairie Moon (Photo by Josie Bowman)

Along with practicing teachers, the Here at Home tours offer up to five spaces to UW students who are interested in local culture pedagogy. By incorporating UW students into the Here at Home Tour, these future teachers learned about cultural arts in Wisconsin communities by directly experiencing them in place. Then they had long conversations among themselves and with the certified teachers on the tour about how to adapt these experiences to the classroom. Pre-service teachers learned with classroom teachers together. Age and experience barriers dissolved in the light of the tour experiences, enabling great dialogic interactions between all.

The Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment supported the first two years of Here at Home. WTLC, with the support of CSUMC and other partners, plans to continue offering tours as professional development opportunities for teachers. The form will change and the locations vary as new themes are developed, but the power of direct on-site interaction with the extraordinary people and places of Wisconsin will continue to inspire practicing and pre-service teachers who board the bus.

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