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Pioneers and the Oregon Trail

April 21, 2021 | Cindy Kuperus

Third graders are studying the pioneers’ journey from Missouri to Oregon City, Oregon. They are learning about the reasons for traveling westward, and the adversities and challenges pioneers faced in traveling 2000 miles in a covered wagon: how to cross a river safely, how to climb or descend the Rocky Mountains, how disease could sweep through a wagon train.

Most days, students view some slides about a topic in the life of a pioneer. They hear a short read – aloud that describes the topic further. They write in a “pioneer journal” about the day’s topic – in the voice and through the perspective of a pioneer. They also add landmarks on a paper map of the Oregon Trail.

In project time that day or the next, students build a wagon or scene out of hollow blocks and then act out the topic for the day.

Some days, Mr. Johnson “Zooms in” and helps children make decisions about their role-play of pioneers.

Recently, our topic of study was the impact the westward expansion had on those already living in the region: Native Americans. Students also considered how the environment changed as more people moved and settled, including felling timber to build homes, creating roads, and farming the land.

Students heard one another read from scripts of Native American voices. They then wrote from the perspective of a Native American. Here are a few student’s words:

I’m a Native American, and my family just encountered some pioneers. We traded and went our separate ways.

I feel sad because pioneers are taking over and it’s not their land – it’s all of our land. We need to share the land so we can stay alive.

A few students wrote poetry, and here is one “voice.”

We will be finishing pioneer studies this week. Next week, we’ll begin to learn about the Cherokee nation and the trail they followed – The Trail of Tears.



Cindy Kuperus

Teacher, Grades 3&4

Ms. Kuperus attended a small Lutheran grade school and has always been a student in multi-grade classrooms. She became interested in teaching, in fact, when she would assist classmates when the teacher was busy helping others. Her 5th/6th grade teacher, Mrs. Roman, encouraged her to think broadly about the world beyond their small town (population: 500), giving stickers to those who could answer a question from the World News segment from television the night before. She would be thrilled to learn that Ms. Kuperus has taught internationally in Masaya, Nicaragua, and Chengdu,China.

After graduating from Calvin College, Ms. Kuperus taught students in grades two-six for almost 10 years in Kentwood, Michigan. In 1994, Ms. Kuperus sought a teaching position in a school in the Northeast, anywhere but New Jersey. She’s now taught for over 23 years in NEW JERSEY! Two of her former students, Becca Brasser and Sam Martino, are now on staff at MSS.

Ms. Kuperus loves opportunities to travel, interact with the people, and taste the foods of the world. She’s also a person who ‘travels” with the characters in the books she reads!

It’s important to Ms. Kuperus that people’s voices are heard and that their needs for shelter and food are met. To that end, she volunteers for organizations like First Friends and the Sharing Place.

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