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Teachers take students time traveling

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Posted: Thursday, December 8, 2011 8:08 pm

Under the heading of it's so easy to criticize and so hard to spot good news, let me share a phone conversation I overheard this past week, between a teacher and a museum volunteer.

The teacher was planning to take his third-graders on the Valley Days field trip to San Joaquin County Historical Museum.

It's an extraordinary experience for kids.

They arrive at the museum dressed as children might have dressed in the late 19th Century — calico dresses, aprons and bonnets for the girls; straw hats and flannel shirts for the boys.

They immediately are immersed in the experience of youngsters of that time. With their hands raised palm up, they pledge allegiance to a flag with 38 stars. They write their lessons on a personal chalk board and if they have questions, they first must "make their manners" — the boys bow and the girls curtsy. All address the teacher as "Ma'am."

When the abbreviated school is out, they break into small groups and rotate to various "stations." They watch a blacksmith forge iron, they wash clothes and pump water by hand, they set brass type and print a poster on a hand press. They even learn to pan for gold.

You can learn more and see pictures from Valley Days by clicking this link.

What impressed me about the phone conversation between the teacher and museum docent was the planning that goes into a Valley Days field trip.

Eight to 12 parents had already been trained to herd the kids to each station. Parents demonstrate all the skills from blacksmithing and gold panning to biscuit cooking and rope making. Teacher have to round up corn husks to make dolls and paper to print on. The teacher even has to remember to bring dirty clothes to be washed on a washboard.

And yet a day or two before the trip, there were still details to work out. The teacher wanted a class photo taken, which interrupts the routine. And there were other details that this veteran teacher asked for and received help with. It was dinner time and both were "off the clock. Yet they spent a half-hour or more working this out.

"It's probably the hardest field trip a teacher can do," said the docent, who I must now reveal was my wife Christi Kennedy Weybret.

All her fellow docents are volunteers and yet they spend hours and hours creating Valley Days. The parents are volunteers, too. Many recall being on the Valley Days field trip when they were kids.

Teachers don't earn an extra dime if their kids get the Valley Days experience — just the satisfaction of taking their students on a trip to 1884.