Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adventures with fourth-graders

One of the miracles of spring is that late every May, somehow, a hundred and some Chariton Community School fourth-graders divided into seven groups visit with near military precision nine narrated stations on the Lucas County Historical Society museum campus in roughly two hours before consuming sack lunches on the grounds, reboarding their school buses, then driving away.

It gives me a headache to try to figure out exactly how this all works --- but it does. And everyone involved seems to have a good time.

Each station is staffed by society officers, board members and volunteers --- Puckerbrush School, the Stephens House (upstairs and down), Otterbein Church, log cabin, Swanson Gallery, Crist Gallery, Mine Gallery, Lewis Gallery and Perkins Gallery. Teachers and volunteer parents coordinate student movement from place to place and the time-master rings the church bell roughly every 20 minutes to indicate it's time to begin a new session.

Students spend the most time, about 20 minutes, at the school since part of the point is to give them some basis for understanding how education used to work.

This was my second year in Otterbein Church, fun for me since my great-great-grandparents, John and Isabelle Redlingshafer, were among its charter members and John headed the committee that raised funds for its first building. There's neither time nor a point in going into that, however.

The goal is to give the kids a little idea of how church used to work in most of Lucas County and to make the points that these plain white buildings were both spiritual and social centers for dozens of rural neighborhoods and that population shifts and motorized transport doomed most of them.

We distributed the air conditioning first (from a big supply of Beardsley Funeral Home fans), pointed out the central heating unit (a big old pot-bellied stove) and took it from there. The kids had the most fun with the fans, I think. They would have gotten more enjoyment out of ringing the church bell, but too much of that and we'd have thrown off the careful timing of the whole event.

All the students were bright, perceptive, well-behaved and asked thoughtful questions. The most questions, actually, were focused on two pump organs in the building. These were a mystery, considered by most who asked about them to be pianos because they have keyboards.

Only one group (all male as you might expect) was a little restless. I solved that by appointing the ringleader preacher and his associate, song leader, then moving them into the tall-backed chairs behind the pulpit where they were (silent) masters of all they surveyed.

Each stop on the tour, other than in the school, lasted about 10 minutes (and could easily have continued), but 10 minutes seems to be about the extent of my attention span, too --- so it worked well. After my 10 minutes, I pointed everyone toward the Swanson Gallery.

The biggest miracle of the morning, however, was the fact that rain was predicted but didn't appear. The kids finished their tour, had plenty of time for lunch on the (dry) grass and rode away. Then, but only then, did the skies open and the downpours begin. Only one backpack and one jacket were left behind.

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