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History education student reflects on immersion experiences

| Denise Olson

UW-Eau Claire's teacher education program is well known for its depth and rigor in preparing arguably the best K-12 teachers in the state, and part of that depth comes through a wide array of hands-on immersive experiences available to Blugold students.

One senior history education major is a prime example of how to take all the opportunities this university offers, and use them to your advantage. After three separate experiences in vastly different K-12 school settings, senior Karissa Mueller will be more prepared than most for that first job in a classroom of her own. The following Q&A gives a reflective glimpse into those enriching educational immersions, and allowed Krueger to tell in her own words how they impacted her life and will impact her teaching career.

What immersion experiences have you taken part in through the College of Education and the Department of History?

My freshman year in 2013 I participated in a domestic intercultural immersion program that allowed education and social work majors to spend our spring break observing seventh- through 12th-grade classrooms at the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal School at the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin.

As a junior, through one of my education studies courses, I spent spring break at the Milwaukee Parkside School for the Arts, an inner-city charter school. I was placed in a fifth-grade social studies classroom and was able to see how this school offers a quality educational setting for its students despite very low funding and resources. 

Finally, my senior year I am completing my student teaching field experience, which will be taking place in a small rural middle/high school south of Eau Claire, and at a middle school in nearby Chippewa Falls. One of my cooperating teachers was the advisor for the History Club, which offered unique opportunities to observe and participate in living history events.

Other than the practical teaching experiences, what did you learn from these immersions?

At Lac Courte Oreilles, I had an opportunity to learn about local Native American history, culture and tribal sovereignty as well as experience a K-12 school setting different from the Eau Claire area public schools. From this trip I learned about the Ojibwe people (or the Anishinabeg, as they prefer to be called), who established this tribal school in the 1970s because they felt their children weren't experiencing the best educational setting at the Hayward public school. They created a school to have their own place where their children could learn not only the core subjects of math, English, science and social studies, but also about their tribe's language, history and culture.

It was a fascinating experience for me to see how they include their tribal traditions and customs throughout the school day and school year. It was also great to see how they included their tribe's history and Native American history throughout the school's U.S. and world history curriculum.

During the trip, I learned from tribal members who had been involved in the protests over the building of the dam on the Chippewa River. They described their reasons for opposing the dam and how once it was constructed it caused a devastating flood that destroyed a huge section of the wild rice fields as well as residential homes and the ancient burial sites of their ancestors. Hearing their first-hand account was incredible and helped me understand the incident a little better, especially with the help of a documentary on the incident. I also had a chance to listen to their winter stories, including many Wenebojo tales, like the one of him and the buzzard. It was an amazing experience and allowed me to learn more about Native American history, especially the Anishinabeg people of the LCO reservation and their culture.

All of these were very valuable experiences that I was fortunate enough to participate in during my college career. Each one helped me to deepen my knowledge of history as well as witness a different educational setting than I had previously experienced. They also helped me to realize how much I wanted to be a social studies teacher and how I would love to teach in school districts that are rural, low-income inner-city, or tribal schools. These districts don't always get the best teachers and resources, yet they are the ones who need them the most.

If you had to describe your overall preparation to teach history to young students, what would you say about the history department at UW-Eau Claire?

The history department at UW-Eau Claire has prepared me well to teach history to students. Going into student teaching I was worried that I wouldn't know my content well enough, but that was never an issue. Not only are there so many great classes to help history teaching majors to learn the content, but there are opportunities within the department to learn topics more deeply and practice teaching. For instance, taking the public history course helped me to look at history outside of an academic framework and consider how historians grapple with presenting their knowledge to the everyday person. I gained many new ideas of how to engage students in history outside of reading a textbook or scholarly article. Another opportunity I had was being able to be an academic apprentice for Dr. Devlin in her History 114 course. As her academic apprentice (similar to a teaching assistant), I helped run some of the activities for the class, taught a small lesson in an active learning classroom, designed and conducted review activities and student sessions for the students, and made connections with history professors at UW-Eau Claire.