In 2001-2002, fourth and fifth graders in Mark Wagler’s class at Randall School in Madison, Wisconsin studied their expanded home of Dane County.
Our work began in our classroom, a 2-block walk from the edge of the University of Wisconsin campus, and a little over 2 miles from the state capitol. A world-class jazz bassist, a yodeling cheesemaker, and a maple syrup maker visited our room. Equally important, students did fieldwork with their families and neighbors, documenting celebrations, gathering places, storytelling, foodways, crafts, and family customs. Students also documented Hmong culture in our neighborhood, the Dane County Farmers’ Market, a nearby cemetery, and a local synagogue.
The climax of our year-long project was a road trip. For four days in March, our class traveled 370 miles through farming communities, small towns, and suburbs in Dane County in south central Wisconsin. We visited a cheese factory, a Cambodian Buddhist temple, three farms, and local gathering places. We interviewed folk artists, musicians, and community historians. We played cards at a senior center, listened to gospel singers, and went sledding three times. We talked with a well-driller, an auctioneer, a quilting group, and a fiddle maker.
The Dane County Cultural Tour was funded in part by the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, with additional support from the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, the Wisconsin Arts Board, Randall School, and the parents of Room 202.