Westward Ho!, History San José’s second most popular School Program, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall. During the 2013-2014 school year, Westward Ho! served 3,500 fifth grade children from schools throughout Santa Clara County, with the objective of providing students the opportunity to experience some of the activities and hardships encountered by pioneers in their journeys overland to the West.
Westward Ho! began as an idea on October 30, 1986, when Virginia Beck, then Director of Education, met with six docents to discuss the development of a program specifically for 5th grade children. Audra Weber was elected general chair of the committee, and over the next several years more docents joined the planning team. After meeting with 5th-grade teachers and curriculum supervisors over the next several years to ensure that the program would fit into the 5th grade curriculum, docents presented the first Westward Ho! program in the fall of 1989. The program was presented once a week and 10 programs were booked the first year.
Costume workshops were held to sew shirts for the boys and “pinafores” and sunbonnets for the girls. As the program was repeated, aspects of it were improved based on feedback from docents and teachers, including a “rainy day” alternative.
In the fall of 1998, the program expanded to twice a week, and soon all slots were filled. In the spring of 2002, Westward Ho! docent Martha Champion presented the program to the Oregon-California Trails Association. The Association awarded the program its Outstanding Educator Award in recognition of excellence in teaching, and bringing alive the history of the Emigrant Trails.
This past year, we have expanded the program to three days a week to meet the increased program needs of the community.
Westward Ho! is the success that it is thanks to our volunteers, docents, and school program interpreters who continue to work diligently to maintain the integrity of the program. At the beginning of each school year, volunteers and docents set up the program, making sure the general store and covered wagon are ready for business. At the end of June, they clean, sweep and mend the program equipment, and celebrate another successful year with a potluck picnic.
We look forward to another 25 years of Westward Ho! and hope your 5th graders have enjoyed their experiences over the years. Feel free to send us your own memories of Westward Ho! at firstname.lastname@example.org.