• Students learn about American pioneers at Kansas Day

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Students from Bradley, Eisenhower and MacArthur Elementary Schools in third, fourth and fifth grades gathered to celebrate Kansas Day Jan. 29 in the Patton Junior High School gym.
    “Those are the grades in which Kansas is studied as part of the history curriculum,” said SuAnn Grant, Unified School District 207 deputy superintendent. “Plus, it gives these children a great opportunity for a hands-on experience to understand what life was like in Kansas. It gives them a glimpse into the past of where we’ve been in Kansas, and they’re the future of where we’re going.”
    “This event is a way to highlight the state’s history and to specifically give the students a taste of what it really was like in Kansas in early days for early settlers in a way that makes it a lot of fun and interactive for them,” said Deena Gardner, executive administrative assistant for USD 207.
    Kansas Day, which commemorates the day Kansas officially joined the United States on Jan. 29, 1861, has been celebrated by the district for 20 years.
    Larry Everitt, who taught the students about wood carving, has participated in Kansas Day for more than 15 years.
    “I do this for the kids,” he said. “Volunteering is just something I do, especially if it’s for kids.”
    Wood carving was a popular work and play activity in pioneer times, Everitt said.
    Though several demonstrators have participated in past years, the post’s Frontier Army Museum and the Pony Express Museum, St. Joseph, Mo., participated for the first time.
    “We’ve been trying to extend more into our education programming. Any opportunity to talk about the museum and get the kids interested we jump at,” said Megan Hunter, museum specialist for FAM. “We’re kind of talking about Kansas but we also want to talk about Fort Leavenworth since it’s so much a part of Kansas Day. What a lot of people don’t know is Fort Leavenworth is older than the state of Kansas, established in 1827. It’s a great way for us to tie Kansas history into Fort Leavenworth history.”
    Cindy Daffron, executive director of the Pony Express Museum, said the museum personnel have participated in other school events and liked the idea of coming to Kansas Day.
    “We think it’s fun because (the Pony Express) went into Kansas territory and we just want kids to understand it’s a piece of history,” Daffron said.
    The Pony Express, a mail transportation system, lasted only 18 months from April 3, 1860, to Oct. 26, 1861. It stretched 1,966 miles from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif., with 100 miles going across Kansas.
    Page 2 of 3 - Daffron and Pony Express Museum Tour Guide Stan Rippey said they made sure to bring one item in particular — the mochila, a saddle cover that held the mail.
    “Riders changed every 75 to 100 miles (and) they changed horses every eight to 12 miles because they’re running these horses as hard as they could run and that’s about as far as you can run a horse without killing them,” Rippey said. “The only thing that went all the way from St. Joe to Sacramento was the mochila, which was what they carried the mail in.”
    Several presenters offered interactive things for the students to try. Darlene Taylor, education coordinator of the Atchison County Historical Society, who represented pioneer women and children, had samples of jerky to try and showed them how to grind coffee beans by hand.
    “I think it’s all a part of our heritage that we want to preserve that heritage and the history to make sure it’s not lost,” Taylor said.
    Roberta Ready taught the students about twilling.
    “Twilling is a hand-embroidery technique and it’s traditionally called the Palestrina stitch,” Ready said. “Kids aren’t exposed to what happened early, early on in settler’s days. A lot of kids don’t have a hands-on experience.”
    Kelley Ebel, third-grade teacher at Bradley Elementary School, said having the hands-on activities helps reiterate what the students are learning in the classroom.
    “This puts it to life which is such an awesome opportunity for them. It puts everything into perspective,” Ebel said. “It brings history to life and what better way is there. You talk and talk about it, but hands-on is a great way to learn.”
    Andrea Lunchen, fifth-grade teacher at MacArthur Elementary School, agreed.
    “It’s a living field trip,” she said. “It’s better than a vicarious experience that is from somebody else’s perspective. Now they get to see it.”
    Peggy Brown, fifth-grade teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School, said Kansas Day is good for students who are stationed at Fort Leavenworth for a short time.
    “Some of the kids are getting this repeatedly, but a lot of the kids, this is their one experience in Kansas,” Brown said. “So, this is their one time to get Kansas history.”
    One of the most popular hands-on experiences for the students was the trail games booth where they could play the buffalo chip throw with dried buffalo manure or learn how to make a toy with just a button and string.
    “When you were on the trail or you were a pioneer, you couldn’t go buy toys so you made toys out of things you found,” said Cheri Miller, trail games demonstrator. “The whole idea is about making your toys out of what you have while using a little bit of creativity and refine motor skills.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Bradley fifth-grader Feliz Mejia IV said his favorite demonstration was the Civil War reenactors.
    “The gun reenactment is my favorite part,” Mejia said. “I like Army stuff.”
    Bradley fifth-grader Jose Aguirre Rico, who is from Spain, agreed with Mejia and said he liked learning about Kansas.
    “I never expected the guns to be so heavy and it’s not easy to aim with them,” Rico said. “I get to learn about new cultures so it’s been pretty awesome.”
    Camp Waldock, third-grader at Eisenhower Elementary, said he enjoyed petting the Angora goat, Dakota, brought by Beth Donovan, owner of Castle Argghhh Farm and Fiber Studio in Easton, Kan., who also taught the students how to sheer a goat and spin the wool.
    “It’s really cute and I love it,” Waldock said. “(Dakota) put his nose in my hand.”
    Gardner says she hopes to continue to make the event better.
    “I got a lot of notes for next year and hope we can come up with some new and exciting things for them,” she said. “Maybe more hands-on where kids can create something, like crafts to take with them.”
    Grant said the event wouldn’t be possible without the volunteers.
    “We have some great demonstrators who are all volunteers,” she said. “We’ve had even more volunteerism not only from the demonstrators, but from our parents and from our community. We’ve had great support.”
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