By Roland Sawatzky Everyone knows that the Mennonite Heritage Village provides school programs to thousands of elementary school children every year. These programs are based on activities, tours and personal interaction. But it is far less likely that we have advanced students (ages 13-23) visit our museum, since their curricula are tailored more to the individual and class tours are less likely to occur. To engage this age group is important to the future of the museum, and these advanced students have so much to offer, and so much to experience, with a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Village. Their visits, however, tend to be much more intensive and personalized than school group programs. Let me give some recent examples.

Over the past number of years the curatorial department has hosted a few practicum students. Their courses tend to be about 6 weeks long, and in this time they are engaged in research, exhibition planning, restoration, collections management, and possibly tours. This last summer we hosted Nia Rogers, a Canadian Mennonite University history major. Her work was a real asset to the museum. At the same time she received some practical knowledge about how the heritage industry works.

Over the past few years we have also hosted a group of Steinbach Regional Secondary School (SRSS) students at our archaeological excavations at the site of the former village of Blumenhof. Volunteering a week of their time, they helped make the excavations a success, experienced the feeling of archaeological discovery, and learned detailed information about early Mennonite settlement in Manitoba.

A few years ago we also hosted an SRSS carpentry class, and in one week they provided us with a new deck in front of and new siding on the General Store, a new boardwalk between the two house barns, some barn doors for the Peters Barn and a new wheelchair ramp for the Lichtenau Church.

The curators also provide special tours to student groups from Steinbach Bible College, Red River College and Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute (MBCI). The MBCI Grade 8 class typically spends a day helping us clean up the museum grounds in the fall!

In my experience the only thing that engages these advanced students in an effective manner is a personal and sophisticated interaction in which the students both experience and produce aspects of historical knowledge. This kind of engagement is labour intensive, but if we provide advanced students with an experience they can remember with pride, then the museum has indeed fulfilled its purpose.

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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