New program lets students explore Point San Luis Lighthouse

clambert@thetribunenews.comJanuary 28, 2014 

The Point San Luis Lighthouse buzzed with activity Monday, as groups of fourth-grade students from Harloe Elementary School in Arroyo Grande took turns touring the former head lighthouse keepers’ house and grounds.

The tour of the century-old lighthouse was part of a new educational program offered to fourth-grade classes studying California history.

The students climbed into the tower where a beehive-shaped Fresnel lens, removed in 1969 when the lighthouse became automated, once warned seamen of the nearby cliffs.

They clattered down a steep stairway into the cellar and peeked out a small window to get a glimpse of a Chinese blessing written on one of the exposed wood slabs, which reads, “Like a bowl catches rain, may this house catch blessings.”

“You could go boogie boarding every single day,” said 9-year-old Cole Harvey when asked if he could imagine living at the light station near Avila Beach.

Brendan Strayer, 10, wasn’t so sure.

“I have a fear of heights and it’s a really windy road,” he said, referring to the long, twisty drive cutting through PG&E property up to the lighthouse.

The fourth-graders were taking part in a new program offered through a partnership between Port San Luis Harbor District, PG&E, the nonprofit Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers and the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust, which gave the keepers a $10,000 grant to develop a curriculum that students can use as they study California history.

“The goal of the program is to expose students in a hands-on way to their local history,” said Kristi Balzer, executive director of the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers.

The history of the lighthouse dates back to 1890, when it was built after a ship called the Queen of the Pacific sank near the Harford Pier on a foggy night. The light helped guide ships to Port San Luis, a bustling center of activity in the early 20th century.

On Monday, the students poked around the same rooms where a young girl named Lucy Brohard once slept, read and played while living in the Victorian-style home in the late 1920s and 30s with her family. She was 12 years old in 1934 when electricity was first brought to the remote light station.

Students learned history of Chinese immigrants and their contributions to the transcontinental railroad as well as to the lighthouse. They played with prisms to learn how a lens bends light to make it shine in one direction, and then viewed the big Fresnel lens, which could shoot a beam 13 to 15 miles over the ocean.

Balzer hopes that more fourth-grade classes will soon be able to tour the lighthouse.

“This is a remarkable trip for all the kids,” Harloe Elementary teacher Sharon Scudder said. “They’re learning all about the lenses, they’re learning about why we have lighthouses and why it was so important.”

Public tours of the lighthouse also are given Wednesdays and Saturdays by reservation. Visitors can either join a guided hike on the Pecho Coast trail, pay for a trolley ride, or kayak to Whalers Cove beach to access the property.

For information about the lighthouse and the keepers’ organization, go to www.sanluislighthouse.org.

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