|Skyler Persarll and Isabel Clark wear cowboy hats as they pan for gold with help from Bill Zimmerman of the Menifee Valley Historical Association.|
Jonathan Ontkean proudly held up a baggie with a gold nugget safely tucked inside.
"I didn't think I would find anything that fast," Jonathan said with a smile.
Students in four Chester Elementary School fourth grade classes went panning for gold, watched a slide show about the Death Valley mines and toured a gold rush "museum" Tuesday as part of the school's Gold Rush Day.
This is the third year the event has been held, all under the direction of fourth grade teacher Jenny Smith. Bringing in many of her personal family antiques and with help from parents and members of the Menifee Valley Historical Association, Smith transformed her classroom into a museum about gold mining and life in the 1800s.
California history is a key element of the fourth grade curriculum, and students at Chester Morrison Elementary certainly get a good dose of it -- especially on Gold Rush Day. A full-size sluice box -- the kind 49ers used to pan for gold -- allowed students the chance to find little shiny gems of their own. Volunteers from the Historical Association taught them mining techniques and explained the story behind the artifacts in the museum. Afterward, students, parents and volunteers enjoyed a picnic lunch.
"I have such a passion for history, and I want to share it with the students," said Smith, whose grandfather was born on the Oregon Trail. "For the students, to actually put these objects in their hands and to see how they work, that's really special. This gives them a picture of the whole setting back then, when there were no 7-Elevens or cell phones."
Nora Ross, a volunteer working the sluice box, had a son in Smith's class two years ago. Her husband Mike, who has a background in mining in Alaska, built the device especially for this annual event. Using an electric pump, volunteers make sure water continues to gush down the slanted box full of sand, rocks -- and "gold."
"It was such a hit that first year, we decided to donate it and I keep volunteering here," Nora Ross said. "It was kind of crude at first, but it's really become something for the kids. Mike is in construction and went right to it once the idea came up."
Inside Smith's classroom, she displayed a miner's pick axe she found by the side of the road near her home in the hills above Menifee. One entire side of the classroom was decorated with displays from her family's history and artifacts from throughout the Menifee area. A photo of Chester Morrison -- after whom the school is named -- and his wife was displayed in one corner of the room. Banners depicting different aspects of Menifee history were on display.
Cailin Knuth and Brayleah Barnish, two of Smith's students, came into the classroom to show their teacher the gold they had discovered.
"It feels like I'm touching a part of history," Cailin said.
"This is fun," Brayleah said. "We get to see how people lived back then. And I got some gold on my first try!"
|Jonathan Ontkean, Isabella Theriault and Christina Mercado show off the gold nuggets they found in the sluice box.|
|Antiques and family histories are displayed inside the classroom.|
|Fourth grade teacher Jenny Smith shows some of her grandfather's fishing collection to students.|
|Kimiko Walker shows her pan with not only sand, but gold.|