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What is it like to be an immigrant pioneer in the 1850s? Fourth grade students are learning all about the challenges and achievements of Utah’s pioneers — who immigrated from as far away as Europe, China, and the Pacific Islands — in a hands-on and intimate encounter they call “The Pioneer Project.” Working in teams, students choose a family and country of origin and then follow that family through its entire journey. By immersing themselves in the lives and stories of Utah’s pioneers, students are able to “see and experience” things as they did.

For the first leg of the journey, students learned what ocean travel was like for immigrant pioneers. They made a scaled model of a ship and created individual stories about what each person on board might experience. Those stories were captured in letters written “home” to loved ones. Next, students learned what it’s like to arrive at an American seaport, an experience often fraught with obstacles — an unfamiliar language and city to navigate, limited money, sickness, and sometimes death. Finding their way from a seaport to Independence, Missouri, involved wagons, provisions, and even more uncertainty. Finally, the trek to Utah will pose burning questions, such as “What will we do there? How will we live?” Students are doing research and creating slide presentations that answer these and other questions.

The Pioneer Project has required months of student engagement already and will continue to the end of the school year. Along the way, it is integrating the content areas of language arts, math, science, social studies, music, and art, providing an experience for students that is thoroughly worthwhile and rewarding.