MODESTO -- It was a walk to remember. A sun-dappled, laughter-studded trek under trees and over trails. Rarely does a school day stick to the senses like burrs to soles.
About 200 Modesto students from the Fremont Open Plan explored Caswell State Memorial Park, learning American Indian history Thursday. No dry lectures on wars and treaties. No Hollywood images of feathers and whooping riders.
Kids ground acorns against a rock to learn what the Yokut and Mewuk tribes ate, rubbed sticks in largely futile attempts to make fire and painted pictograms on pebbles.
"They're interacting to learn about the Indians. It's not just a story," said Maria Mercado, mother of a first-grader.
Dozens of grandparents and parents staffed the activity stations and guided students using early-day machines with no screens, no motors, just kids pumping their arms, and no reset buttons.
"I've never seen so much parent activity on a field trip," Mercado said. This was her first Fall Walk.
Opportunities for children
Pat Roberts sent her children to Fremont Open Plan and now volunteers with her grandchildren. Coaxing children past the frustration of starting a fire the best anyone did was manage a whiff of smoke Roberts said she learns more than the kids on the yearly walks.
"It's a huge process, attempting to make fire and discovering how hard it is," she said as determined students twirled away.
"I wish all of the kids (in Modesto) could have these opportunities."
Youngsters spoke with crystal clarity about things they learned on past walks in other parks, grandmother Alice Ferrell said. Teachers tell her that students who struggle to remember multiplication will have no trouble recalling every detail of a field trip, she mused.
Ferrell manned the acorn grinding station, where the still moist acorns were a challenge to crack, she said. Beside her, Fremont mom Marie Price demonstrated a woodpecker trap, a long cone of twisted vines borrowed from the Great Valley Museum for the day.
One dad said he was playing hooky for the day. "This is a trip that's not to be missed," Terry Carlfeldt said.
Other parents showed snake rattles, pointed out poison oak, taught youngsters the game of staves (halved sticks thrown like dice) and pointed to what distinguishes leaves when seen through little magnifiers.
Same skills, new setting
The park was a new setting for many of the same skills put to use in classrooms several times a month. Fremont Open Plan, a special program at Fremont Elementary, requires its parents to pitch in.
Sixth-grade parent Tina Jamison said she will miss the sense of community it builds. "There's lots of enrichment, lots of hands-on for the kids," she said. Open Plan students take several field trips each year, including overnighters, thanks to its volunteers, she said.
"It's a culture here. A lot of schools have trouble getting that parent involvement culture going," Jamison said.
Student involvement also is part of the culture, with upper-grade students as "cross-age buddies" for younger children.
"It's really fun," said fifth-grader Lauren Velasco as she helped a younger girl try to drill a hole in a shell using a stick equipped with a leather strap. "I'm an only child and it feels like I have a little sister," she said.
The coolest part of the day was "being around nature," sixth-grader Jeff Fuentes said, something he doesn't get to do often.
Painting a story on a rock intrigued Carma Mize. She drew a sign for a gate and a lock. "It means a key to another world," Carma said.
In some ways, that's exactly what the Fall Walk offered.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.