After a brief but engaging study of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s travels, the IXs have begun their longest and most exciting unit of the year: the Oregon Trail. Both classes have been learning about this part of the Westward Expansion for the last few weeks and they will continue until their mid-spring play.
Even though the Oregon Trail study has just begun, both Jack Toews and Frances Keane, IXsJ students, have enjoyed it more than Lewis & Clark. More specifically, the IXs have enjoyed creating their Oregon Trail “pioneer” characters. They created these characters to learn more about what it would be like to travel on the Oregon Trail, after the IXs create these characters, they sort them into different families.
In the IXsK classroom, students read stories about real pioneers who traveled west, to get inspiration for their characters. After that, both classes began writing down the most important parts of their pioneers. Frances described a packet handed out in class which included a space to draw a picture of your character and a line to write a made-up name. Her character’s name is Ezzie. Jack made sure to add that “we had to write a paragraph about our personalities,” which further individualized their characters. Jack’s character’s name is Henry.
Sophie Rothman, another IXsK student, chose to name her character Isabel. She described her pioneer in the first person, which showed how important Isabel is to her. “My character is not like me at all,” said Sophie, “I [my pioneer character] am stubborn. I like to get dirty, to do things, and make things too. And, I am crazy.”
Tabitha Broderick, a student in the IXsK, named her character Beatrice. Beatrice is Isabel’s mother, and Tabitha said that “yeah, it is pretty hard to deal with Isabel at times. But that’s just part of being her mom I guess.”
They later shared their descriptions and illustrations of their imaginative people with the rest of the group, and “the class decided which ones were most likely to be grouped into a family, based on different qualities, attributes, and occupations of the pioneers that would mesh well together,” said Katie Mostriano, IXsK teacher. The IXsJ ended up with three families, the Millers, the Browns, and the Wheelers, and each student was assigned a unique role within their family, such as an aunt, a mother, a child, or even hired worker, which some of the IXs’ pioneer characters are. A hired worker is someone who lives with the family, but is only there because they are paid to do chores for the family members.
Although fictitious, these characters already mean a lot to the IXs. It is not uncommon for IXs to become quite attached to their pioneers as they connect with them and view the world through a new perspective. In past years, it has been devastating for some IXs to hear that their character died of dysentery or cholera, which goes to show how much this unit means to them. When Jack was asked if he felt attached to Henry Brown, his character, he said, “Yeah, a lot.” However, he did not think that he was similar to his character. Henry Brown is an escaped slave who traveled on the underground railroad to reach freedom. Without a family, Henry had a hard time, until he was hired to help a family go to Oregon. While Jack and Henry may not be too similar in that way, Jack thought that Henry would be a good person to be friends with. Frances agreed although she acknowledged that the age difference between her and her character would create an unconventional friendship.
“The IXs seem really dedicated to their work on their pioneer characters,” said Katie. Which is very understandable considering their pioneer characters have been the main feature of the last couple of weeks. Jack agreed that he felt dedicated to this part of the unit and even said that it was his favorite part so far.
When asked how much they enjoyed the pioneer characters study process on a scale from one to 10, both Tabitha and Sophie said “10.”
However, their character’s have only just begun their journeys, as Katie described as she said, “The families [of the pioneer characters] will soon look to travel to Independence, where they will ‘meet’ each other, [and] pack their wagons.”
The key purpose of this study was to find out why many of said pioneers wanted to travel West. The IXsK came up with two main reasons: “there were people being pushed from their home because of reasons such as overcrowded land, and there were more opportunities and freedom out West. For the people who stayed, they stayed because the West was too dangerous and unknown to people who have not had any experience there,” said Katie. However, students in the IXsJ suggested that there was more at play here. While there was more land in Oregon, it may not have been as desirable as the United States government portrayed it to be. According to Frances, Thomas Jefferson wanted more people to move West so America could make up the majority of Oregon, which would make it officially an American territory and not England’s. The IXs have already begun to analyze historical events which will surely serve them well in two years when they are in the Upper School.
Social Studies have been the predominant focus in both IXs classrooms; however, their pioneer characters are not the only attraction the IXs look forward to in school. The Country Trip is an annual trip that is both fun and educational. The IXs get to spend a week outdoors in the countryside and it is just around the corner. The Country Trip is scheduled week after Spring Break, which is in just one week. The IXs have already started preparing for the trip. Besides bouncing around with questions for the teachers to answer, they have “making sourdough in Science” said Sophie. However, there are lots to come from the IXs’ preparation for the grand trip.