Crestview first-graders live history at NRHC

First-grade students in Saundra Wimberley’s class at Crestview Elementary School did more than hear about history last week.

They experienced a little of what it was like.

Students participated in “Candlelight at the Ranch” Friday night, wearing simple pioneer costumes and role playing as students in a one-room schoolhouse at the National Ranching Heritage Center

Wimberley said participating in a historical re-enactment provides a richer experience than just reading about history in a book.

Not only do students have to wear old pioneer dresses and vests, they also have to remember lessons from the classroom. When Wimberley quizzes them about what they want for Christmas, she said students are supposed to remember to ask for a penny, a piece of candy, an orange, a doll or maybe a new homemade piece of clothing.

“I think it helps the kids so much to get an idea of time and place,” Wimberley said. “They can feel like they become those children.”

It’s not all playacting.

Students also have to learn about the stoves that kept structures warm and efore they come to the ranch they have a safety meeting, Wimberley said.

In the pioneer days of West Texas, students would have already learned about fire safety before coming to school for the first time, Wimberley said.

“That was everyday life. They would have come knowing, I don’t touch that, and I can help take care of it,” she said.

Not only did the Frenship students have fire safety lessons, they also had a certified fire tender in the schoolhouse to take care of the fire, Wimberley said.

The fire safety lessons made an impression on at least one first-grader. Blake Wilson said that’s what was most on his mind as he prepared to go into the schoolhouse.

“There’s a big pot thing in the middle of the room,” Blake said. “It’s really important that you don’t knock it over.”

The schoolhouse itself, probably no bigger than most of the students’ bedrooms at home, is a history lesson for students, Wimberley said.

“The building and the supplies were so simple,” she said. “This schoolhouse has one shelf for books.”

As he prepared to spend a few hours posing in the one-room schoolhouse, first-grader Brady Lang seemed most impressed by not bringing home a backpack full of paperwork for Mom and Dad to check.

“We learned that in the one-room schoolhouse, that they don’t have papers,” Brady said. “They had to have slates.”

Writing on slate was a feat Wimberley said is more difficult than writing on a modern chalkboard. Older slates were slick and difficult to write on, she said.

Brady said it was possible that his parents wouldn’t know what his homework was with that system.

Brady’s older sister, Ashley Lang, now a seventh-grader at Heritage Middle School, participated in the “Candlelight at the Ranch” when she was in Wimberley’s class. Because Wimberley needed a few older students to make the schoolhouse look authentic, Ashley was invited to come back.

Ashley said she doesn’t remember a whole lot of her experience at the ranch when she was just a wee first-grader.

“One thing that I remember is that they had mixed ages,” she said. “I remember singing a lot of songs.”

Wimberley has the students sing some Christmas carols to keep them and those peeking in the schoolhouse door entertained during the night.

The Crestview teacher first participated in “Candlelight at the Ranch” as a Frenship High School student around 1980. She loved it so much, she dragged her college buddies to participate again in the early 1980s.

It’s easy to see that Wimberley really enjoys the pioneer time period, but would she really prefer living and teaching in that era?

“I don’t know,” she said, musing for a bit. “We have lots of conveniences.”

Wimberley said with all of the research that has been done about how to effectively teach reading, she would rather teach now.

But she does prefer the simplicity of the earlier era, she said.

“The kids didn’t have very many distractions. Life was simple. I think they did have parents that understood that education was important to them and got them there,” she said. “They didn’t have as much stuff to fuss over.”

Knowing more about what her ancestors faced as they settled in West Texas helps her to appreciate what she has now, Wimberley said.

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