30 Years of History with the Junior Docent Program

30 Years of History with the Junior Docent Program

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Each year, students split up and cover the exhibits in the Dacotah Prairie Museum. Photo courtesy of the Dacotah Prairie Museum.

The Dacotah Prairie Museum and Roncalli Elementary celebrated the Junior Docent Program’s 30th anniversary on May 8. The party was held for past participants and their families, as well as the docents from the 2023 school year.

The Junior Docent Program began in 1993 as a part of South Dakota’s Partnership in Education program, in which elementary school students would visit local businesses to learn more about their day-to-day operations. Many teachers reached out to local businesses to set up tours of their facilities. Linda White, a teacher at Roncalli Elementary, first reached out to the museum’s Curator of Education Sherri Rawstern in 1992.

“At first I wasn’t sure what we would do with 45 kids visiting,” said Rawstern. “But then I thought ‘why not have them help us?’” The Junior Docent Program became a student-led tour of the museum. Each student was assigned a specific exhibit in the museum and given a script to practice. At the end of the day, parents and teachers came to participate in the tour.

“It really empowers the kids,” said Rawstern. “Public speaking is hard for some of them. At first they’ll be a little shy and quiet, but each time they run through their script, they gain a little confidence.”

Many Junior Docents continue their involvement with the museum and volunteer at other activities, such as the summer History Camp. Now that 30 years have passed, the second generation of docents are participating in the program. Some of them have even started working in museums themselves. One former participant, Levi Margolies, now works at the museum in the Collections department.

“When you work with kids, sometimes it takes a village,” Rawstern said. “These kids are my village.” //