Museum celebrates 20 years of Junior Docent program

Farm Forum

On Saturday (July 6), the Dacotah Prairie Museum will host an open house for everyone who’s participated in the museum’s Junior Docent program.

The open house runs from 1 to 4 p.m. The event, a press release says, is the Dacotah Prairie’s “way of saying thank you to its young volunteers, who for 20 years have provided selfless service to the museum.”

A docent is an adult who serves as a volunteer tour guide, most often in a museum setting. The museum’s Junior Docents do the same, except rather than being adults, they are sixth-graders from Aberdeen’s Roncalli Elementary School.

This community partnership between the museum and the school started in 1993 under the auspices of the Partnership in Education program. Leaders from the museum and school developed a program of service in which each sixth-grade students would volunteer at the museum on several occasions throughout his or her sixth-grade year.

Sherri Rawstern, the museum’s curator of education, has worked with this program since its inception, providing training for students during the early weeks of the school year to ensure students will be ready for their first tour experience, which occurs each January during Catholic Education Week. Students select one of the museum’s exhibits, learn the script for that exhibit and practice talking to each other about what is important for visitors to notice in that exhibit. Students are ready to provide this information to their family, teachers and school administrators in January. From that point through the end of the school year, the students serve as guides to museum visitors.

The student docents are also trained to help museum staff in the “Afternoon Into the Past” program, which takes third-grade students back in time to experience daily life in the late 1880s when they would have churned butter, dipped candles, used a washboard for laundry chores and finally enjoyed a treat in the form of one lemon drop for their efforts.

During a typical year, the Roncalli sixth-grade class shares 500 to 700 hours with the museum, with some classes sharing more than 1,000 hours. The 850 Junior Docent alumni have shared 14,321 hours over the past 20 years helping the museum tell the stories of our area.

“Becoming a Junior Docent has become a tradition for Roncalli sixth-grade students as each new class looks forward to participating in the program,” says the museum. “Many had older siblings in the program and have heard the stories about experiences unique to this program and look forward to finding out what their year of being a Junior Docent will be like.”

The museum and Roncalli extended an invitation to all 850 participants to not only send Junior Docent memories or stories to the museum for inclusion in an exhibit to be built featuring the program, but also invited them to attend the open house in their honor. The museum is still collecting memories for the exhibit, so if you were part of the Junior Docent program and would like to share please email your information to Rawstern at or send it to Dacotah Prairie Museum, 21 S. Main St., Aberdeen, SD 57401.

Refreshments served during the reception will be typical Junior Docent fare — i.e., crackers and popcorn topped with freshly churned butter, buttermilk brownies, Rice Krispie bars and punch. These items have been served at the annual year-end thank-you party since the beginning and showcase the fruits of the students’ labors. They make the butter and wash it to provide the buttermilk. Also available for viewing during the open house will be the banners that each class created at their party.