by Cori Hilsgen
All Saints Academy-St. Joseph campus sixth-grade students have been learning about famous people including songwriter Bob Dylan, actress Jane Russell, boxer Duane Bobick, painter George Catlin and how they have connections with different Minnesota counties.
Students recently shared these facts and other information with parents and other attendees at a County Fair May 9 at the Church of St. Joseph Catholic Church Heritage Hall.
They shared four-part presentations about their counties that included a tri-fold display with paragraphs and photos; a digital presentation (Google slideshow) of a favorite topic; a county “welcome basket” with objects that represent culture, economy or fun things to do in their county; and each child “became” a famous person from their county, acting as a host to introduce visitors to the county.
During these four different presentations, students shared information about geography, history, industry, agriculture, education, immigrants, American Indian connections and special places of interest in the county.
The counties students presented on included Becker County by Rhianna Sieben, Beltrami County by Alexis Finken, Crow Wing County by Kylie Smith, Houston County by Emma Zaun, Itasca County by Mary Clare Colberg, Lake of the Woods County by Tyler Smith, Morrison County by Ella Morris, Pipestone County by Sophia Botz, St. Louis County by Livi Kremer and Wadena County by Spencer Scholz.
Teachers Susan Huls and Tess Koltes also discussed Stearns County as an example for teaching and included the information in the fair.
“Doing all of the research, most of it online, was a stretch for several of the students,” said Huls, a sixth-grade teacher.
She said Koltes, the sixth-grade writing teacher, spent a lot of time helping students look for relevant sites. Koltes also helped students write business letters to county historical museums and county seats, and many counties were very generous with the packets of hard-copy information they sent to students through the mail.
“I teach Minnesota studies in sixth grade, as required by the state standards, and I now know quite a bit about Minnesota in general,” Huls said. “Having students research these counties, though, has taught me a lot of interesting information that is not part of our curriculum. It is a great way to really get to know other less well-known parts of our state.”
“I would say the hardest task they had was finding information online,” Koltes said. “If I worked for the state of Minnesota in the tourism department or for any county agency or historical society, I would encourage every city and every county to really develop their websites, making them somewhat kid-friendly and filled with links to county information for all those students who are studying Minnesota.”
A couple of students commented on the projects.
“It was a lot of hard work, but in the end, my display really looks great,” said sixth-grader Kylie Smith. “I really liked learning about Charles Bender, a baseball player from Crow Wing County.”
“I really enjoyed learning about the Pipestone National Monument, and I hope to visit it some day,” said sixth-grader Sophia Botz.
The students chose their counties last spring. Huls and Koltes hoped the students would have a chance to visit and take pictures of some places in their counties during the summer months.
Students then began researching with Koltes in fall in their writing class.
The sixth-grade social studies focus is Minnesota studies. Huls said the students read a lot of history and study some government and economic topics. In her class, she also asks the students to learn the names and locations of all 87 counties of Minnesota.
“Just as important, though, is to find out how wonderful some of the less-traveled places in Minnesota are,” Huls said.
She said when visitors viewed the county fair displays, the students wanted the attendees to get a sense of how interesting their county is, and perhaps get inspired to travel to some of these places to get to know them better. All are reachable in a day’s drive.