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Local libraries, historical societies provide free and fun educational opportunities for youth
Feb. 14, 2011
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By Kristen Miller
News Editor

COKATO, DASSEL, MN – To conclude the series highlighting reasons why Cokato and Dassel were named the best places to raise kids in Minnesota (Bloomberg Businessweek Dec. 14, 2010), the fifth and final article looks at free educational opportunities that are made possible through the local libraries and historical societies.

Cokato and Dassel public libraries

Located in the heart of each of the towns, the Cokato and Dassel public libraries offer programming geared toward youth, from story times to summer reading, along with fun activities in between.

The Cokato Public Libraries summer reading program is designed to motivate and encourage children and teenagers to read throughout the summer and take a part in the many fun activities available at the library.

Last year the theme was “Make Waves at Your Library,” and the children learned a lot about water, said Sheila Rieke, Cokato branch manager.

The summer reading program always starts with a kick-off party, with the Cokato royalty lending a hand. The program also includes a story time and craft every Wednesday.

In 2010, the summer reading program attracted 190 participants, including 46 teens, for a total of 900 hours of reading (four hours of reading equals one coupon for prizes).

“We even include babies, as early literacy is so very important,” Rieke said.

Prizes for the children and teens are provided by Great River Regional Library, however, many more are provided by the Friends of the Cokato Area Library through fundraising events such as two annual book sales (April and August) and the annual tea party in March.

Additional teen prizes are also donated by various local businesses such as Broadway Hair Fashions and Cokato Dairy Queen.

Offered year-round at the Cokato Public Library is story time, which takes place the first and third Wednesday of the month with presenter Konnie Miller.

The average attendance for story time is 31, with 44 being the summer average.

Each story time consists of a book related to the day’s theme, a craft or science experiment, and a snack.

Sara Heinonen and her kids, from a newborn through first grade, are weekly users of the library.

“We usually have quite a stack of books,” Heinonen said.

Her kids also look forward to story time and have fun coming for the other programs offered at the library.

There have been several programs geared toward youth that have been made possible through the state’s Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment that passed in 2008.

Legacy programs offered at Cokato have been a cartoon workshop, a visit from the Minnesota Zoomobile, Guthrie Theatre acting classes, and more.

For more information and hours about Cokato Public Library, visit www.griver.org.

The Dassel Public Library also offers a summer reading program from June through July geared toward elementary students.

“It’s really a good way for the kids to keep active in their reading skills during the summertime,” said Doni Adams, summer reading program coordinator.

On average, the Dassel Public Library has 75 participants in its summer reading program.

In 2010, there were 94 participants. “It was a wonderful year,” Adams said.

Last year, Adams decided to lower the age of participation from kindergarten to age 3 through fifth grade.

Those interested in the program, will enjoy a kick-off event set for Tuesday, June 9. This year’s theme is “One World, Many Stories.”

The kick-off will include nationally-known Minnesota folk/Americana musician Dennis Warner. What he considers his biggest honor was being invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC during a special concert series highlighting the best of the unknown songwriters.

At the kick-off, participants will receive a free book bag, a bookmark, and a reading log sheet to keep record of the books they read.

This works as an incentive program, with prizes awarded after reaching one, or all three of the goals.

There are also activities and crafts related to the theme that are available at the library each week. Prizes are awarded for completing the particular activity or craft, as well.

Currently offered at the Dassel Public Library is an after-school 4-H program. The remaining dates are Tuesday, Feb. 22; Tuesday, March, 22; and Tuesday, April 19.

The Dassel Public Library has also offered a number of Legacy programs for youth including a tea party, where girls learned the custom of a formal British Tea.

Also offered for children was a pottery class and a Guthrie Theatre acting class.

For more information and hours, visit www.pioneerland.lib.mn.us/dassel/index.htm.

Area historical societies

Both Cokato and Dassel have active historical societies and museums for the benefit of the whole community, but they also provide opportunities for youth to learn more about how things used to be, which, for many, can seem foreign.

“The schools are really good at integrating visits to the museum into their curriculum,” said Mike Worcester, director of the Cokato Museum and Akerlund Photography Studio, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Each year, the second graders from both Cokato and Dassel elementary schools visit the Cokato Museum. During their tour, students can see visual representations of what they read about in the stories, “The Long Way to a New Land” and “The Long Way Westward,” by Joann Sandin, of Swedish settlers coming to America and Minnesota.

From detailed maps showing the routes settlers would’ve traveled to an example of the type of log cabin they would’ve lived in, the Cokato Museum portrays what life was like for the early settlers.

The third graders also visit the museum as part of a local history unit. During their visit, students participate in a scavenger hunt, looking for a list of items that can be found in the museum exhibits or the 100-year-old photography studio.

The studio provides a great contrast for students to compare how something as simple as taking a picture has changed from 100 years ago, Worcester explained. He noted that it’s particularly interesting for students who get to sit still in the posing chair for a minute while Worcester demonstrates the early picture-taking process.

Worcester believes that a local history museum should be a benefit to people of all ages and, even with temporary displays, he tries to connect with visitors in the younger age brackets, as well.

The Dassel Area Historical Society also tries to get area youth interested in local history and become involved in various programming.

The Dassel History Center and Ergot Museum provides an opportunities for youth to learn more about local history by touring the museum and its permanent exhibits.

The Universal Laboratories Building, now the Ergot Museum, is also on the National Register of Historic Places, as a unique piece of history because of the ergot manufacturing facility it once served as.

During the local history unit, Dassel Elementary third graders tour the Dassel History Center, learning about the history of Dassel and also how ergot was a part of the local economy.

They also learn about Magnus Johnson, a US senator who grew up near the Kingston area.

Another way the Dassel Area Historical Society was able to get youth involved is by utilizing their talents in the promotion of the 2009 Smithsonian Institute’s traveling exhibit, “Between Fences.”

Dassel-Cokato High School art students created the promotional signs for the exhibit, including a large sign that was stationed along Highway 12.

“We think about giving kids an opportunity to exhibit their work out in public and beyond the school,” said Carolyn Holje, Dassel History Center director.

Middle school and high school art students were also encouraged to design a piece of art to display that incorporated fences.

There were also educational outreach opportunities as part of this traveling exhibit for all ages.

Students will also be involved, possibly even more so, in a second traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “New Harmonies,” which is set to arrive in September, according to Holje.

“It’s really an exciting theme this year,” she said.

The theme incorporates the various meanings of the word, harmony, both with the musical roots of America and the ideology of living in peace with others of various backgrounds.

The Cokato Finnish-American Historical Society (CFAHS) encourages kids to look back and learn about their history.

“It gives them roots,” said Susie Keskey, CFAHS secretary. “It’s something to be proud of.”

The society offers plenty of chances to make that possible for youth.

Located three miles north of Cokato on County Road 3 is the Finnish Pioneer Park, commonly known as Temperance Corner.

There, the society owns and maintains four buildings, two of which date back to the 1860s, and can assist in telling the history of the land.

The historic log cabin and savu sauna give young people an idea of how the early Finnish settlers lived.

For example, Keskey explained how one winter there were 17 people living in the 10- by 14-foot cabin.

Also apart of Pioneer Park is Lee School, which first opened in 1899, in French Lake Township.

The school is open to classes interested in experiencing a day in a one-room schoolhouse.

The CFAHS also provides scholarships for youth and adults to the Salolampi Finnish Language Village through Concordia College.

Typically, the society awards two scholarships, but due to a generous anonymous donor, three people were able to attend Salolampi this year.

The society was also recently provided a unique opportunity after being awarded a grant for 15 kanteles, Finnish folk harps.

Community members can take lessons free of charge by internationally-known artist Diane Jarvi as part of a year-long residency.

Jarvi, along with her students, will end the residency with a Finnish hall-style program at the Dassel History Center Sunday, May 15 at 3 p.m.

For more information about the CFAHS, visit www.cokatofinnam.org.

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