Pioneering program turns 25

In the Classroom: Tumwater Middle School: Reunion will celebrate unique history class

lpemberton@theolympian.comSeptember 17, 2012 

During the past 25 years, nearly 1,500 students have donned pioneer clothing and helped recreate South Sound’s rich history at various community events through Tumwater Middle School’s Homesteaders program.

And teacher Robert “Bob” Cooksey hopes a crowd of them will show up Saturday at the program’s all-student reunion at Delphi School.

The event will include refreshments, pioneer games and a chance to socialize with others who have been involved in the program, which was created in 1987 as part of a celebration for the state’s 1989 centennial.

“If the kids want to come dressed up, that’d be great,” Cooksey said. “But if they don’t, just come back.”

The yearlong course covers all of requirements for the Washington state history course that students would typically take in high school. But it also gives students a chance to learn pioneer skills and local history, and share that information at community events such as the annual New Market Pioneer Fair and Cider Sunday.

“We dress how they would in the 1800s, and we kind of re-enact how they work and what they did,” said eighth-grader Shay Harmon. “It’s more like hands-on social studies.”

“It’s kind of a fun class, and you take a lot of notes,” added eighth-grader Jennifer Baker. “But you learn a lot.”

During the year, students learn to sew, chop wood, churn butter and do other activities that were common in the 1800s. They also learn pioneer dances, practice writing in journals and play pioneer games.

“They have to learn the language of the 1800s,” said Cooksey, adding that they’ll need to work terms such as “take the bull by the horns” and “once in a blue moon” into their conversations during re-enactments.

On a recent morning, Cooksey gave students tips on how to incorporate and modify modern clothes into their Homesteader outfits.

For example, collars could be removed or sewn inside a man’s shirt, and an extra button could be added to a fly on a pair of pants because they didn’t use zippers.

“Polyester is a whole lot more comfortable than wool,” Cooksey said. “Wool gets hot. It gets scratchy.”

Eighth-grader Kennon Maurer said he signed up for the class because his sister enjoyed it. He said he’s looking forward to dressing up and working at the community events.

“It’s a lot different than our present time,” he said. “Their clothes are a lot more modest.”

If you go

The Tumwater Middle School Homesteaders program will celebrate its 25th anniversary with an all-student reunion from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Delphi School, 7601 Delphi Road SW, Olympia. Current and past Homesteaders students and families are invited to attend and enjoy refreshments and pioneer games. For more information, contact Bob Cooksey at 360-709-7500 or 360-754-5433 @Lisa_Pemberton

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