Mission studies go beyond sugar cubes
Sierra Jenkins’ article on the Our Schools page (“End The Mission Madness,” Index-Tribune, Jan. 29), regarding fourth-grade history projects, needs clarification. For those who may not have read the article, it was a critique of student projects annually on display at the Sonoma Barracks from early May through Memorial Day weekend. Jenkins’ criticism is that students merely construct mission models with paste, macaroni and sugar cubes without greater historical study.
She continues with an historical overview of many facts as well as personal judgments regarding California history that she presumes is not taught in fourth-grade programs.
I am not writing to argue with Jenkins’ historiography. Rather, I believe her comments about the fourth-grade programs should be tempered by additional facts. Search at cde.ca.gov and seek “History-Social Science Content Standards For California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve,” (pp.12-15) to view fourth-grade curriculum standards.
There are eight academic areas of inquiry that include, among others, the study of Native Americans; early explorers of California; California geography; daily life in the pueblos, missions and ranchos; the shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture; the impact of the Mexican War for Independence on California and the secularization of the missions.
Each year, especially in the spring, busloads of students make field trips to California missions and pueblos as part of their fourth-grade curriculum studies.
In Sonoma, there is an outdoor classroom at the State Park Mission to accommodate the students. Docents explain to students the early history of Sonoma and focus on life here for Native American children. In addition, myriad parents from across the region visit the Mission and Barracks annually. Docents explain to parents and students alike the complexities of life in early California for Native Americans, the padres, soldiers, settlers and grandees like Gen. Vallejo. Students and parents collect information for reports, displays and, in some cases, mission replicas.
Annually, students from the Sonoma Unified School District, St. Francis Solano and Presentation School set up exhibits in the Barracks. Some of the 9- and 10-year-old students create mission models. Doing so, they learn of other communities, their histories and the history of the early Californians who lived here. Students also produce papers, book reports and maps regarding research into life in Mexican-California.
Recently, there have been current projects describing the lives of California farmworkers and their leaders, such as Caesar Chavez. This certainly is pertinent to the lives of many Sonoma students.
As a docent, I encourage Sonomans of all ages to visit the Barracks between April 26 and May 28 to see the grand creations and research of Sonoma’s fourth-grade scholars.
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Tom Martin is coordinator of the Fourth-Grade Curriculum Project at the Sonoma/Petaluma Historic State Park.