Chilliwack students immersed in local history

Classroom in Residence program at museum a pilot program for two Chilliwack schools

Imagine stepping out of a modern-day elementary classroom and into the past, not just for an afternoon field trip but for a week-long excursion.

Two Chilliwack classes will have the chance to do just that, thanks to a special pilot program at the Chilliwack Museum called Classroom in Residence. Instead of brushing past exhibits and quickly taking in all the sights and sounds of the museum, students will take classes for an entire week inside the museum. They will work with their teachers and the museum’s co-ordinator for the program, Lena Yacyshen, and even get a special trip to visit the museum’s archives by Evergreen Hall.

The week includes a scavenger hunt activity, and visits to key areas around the downtown area to discover the past and how it’s been preserved. Students will study immigration and population changes, and even how natural disasters like flooding can shift and shape a city. They’ll be thinking about what life was like for people who lived here 100 years ago, and for those finite local details they’ll be digging deep into the online Chilliwack Progress archives.

It’s truly an immersion into local history.

“This is going to give the students the time to slow down, observe, and look carefully at things,” Yacyshen says. And each student will have a journal they’ll be expected to write and draw in as the week carries on.

“By the fifth day, I hope they will be really engaged,” she says.

While day trips to any museum are always valuable, the idea of immersing classrooms into longer, in-depth programs is beginning to catch on across the country. Stephanie Clinton at the Chilliwack Museum brought the program to life here, modelled after what they’re doing in other cities, including the Campus Calgary/Open Minds programs, as well as the successful museum school program at the Sunshine Coast Museum and Archives, the Beyond Classrooms network in Kingston, ON, and the Museum School network in London, ON.

The Grade 5/6 classes chosen for Chilliwack’s pilot project, in February and March, are Jody Holford’s class at Tyson elementary and Lisa vanDalfsen’s class at Promontory Heights elementary. The first to attend will be the Promontory class, and what they’ll find is the class isn’t just about history, or social studies.

“I am really looking forward to the place-based aspect of it,” vanDalfsen says. “I am excited to see students learning using the resources we have in our community. Another big part for me is to see students interacting with artifacts and primary sources, asking questions and making inferences.”

The appeal for her, as a teacher, is that they won’t have to rush the trip.

“Generally on fieldtrips we have to do everything quickly to fit as much into the day as possible and we end up skimming the surface of what there is to offer,” she says. “I am excited that with this model we will be able to explore concepts in depth and develop deeper understandings.”

The program also fits into the new curriculum for B.C. classrooms, using local knowledge, place-based experiences, as well as in-depth exploration of big ideas and concepts.

Both vanDalfsen and Holford have been working with Yacyshen to create lesson plans that fit curriculum that hit on all the needs of a regular school day, right down to keeping the kids active. Holford can’t wait to see how the kids respond to the new type of learning environment.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the students interact with and respond to archive materials,” she says. “Will they connect with them? Will it inspire them to wonder about their own history? Will it make them think about the idea of legacy and what that might look like in their own families?”

The students will get a chance to learn about Chilliwack’s former Chinatowns, she adds, along with the impact of the floods.

“I enjoy seeing things from their perspective so it’ll be interesting to see and hear what they think about bigger issues,” Telford says. “I think there will be both challenges to learn from for a possible next time and insightful connections that students will learn from in a completely new way.”

If the pilot project is a success, the Chilliwack Museum will be able to look at branching out and offering it to other classes in future years. But for now, the focus is on getting it just right for the two classes. Yacyshen, who has a background in fine arts and arts history, was hired in November specifically to work on the Classroom in Residence Project. Her role was made possible through a Building Careers in Heritage grant.

While the program planning is well underway, the museum is still seeking grants and even program sponsorship — the total costs are under $2,000 for the pilot’s resources and supplies.

To learn more, visit or phone 604-795-5210.


Lena Yacyshen will be guiding Chilliwack students through the rich history of Chilliwack this February and March, in a pilot program that will have classes at the Chilliwack Museum for a week. (Submitted photo)

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