About the Colony

8-year-olds devour our local history

Last Tuesday I spent an hour with a group of third-graders at Santa Rosa Academic Academy.

They had just finished learning about the history of their hometown, and many of them had walked through Tent City set up next to Atascadero Creek and the 1919 bungalow that serves as headquarters for the Atascadero Historical Society.

Most of us remember building miniature replicas of some of the California missions when we were in the fourth grade.

I even delighted in helping my own stepdaughter build her model of Mission San Antonio. Actually, I got carried away. We took pictures of all four sides, used a 100-foot tape to measure all the exterior walls and more. I doubt she had as much fun as I did.

Several years ago, the Atascadero Unified School District began exposing third-graders to the history of their own town.

I wasn’t prepared for the enthusiastic reception I got when I showed up to dazzle three classes of 8-year-olds, nor was I ready for the level of questions they had for me.

Those teachers did a wonderful job getting those students fired up about Atascadero’s history. I’m sorry I don’t have their names to share with you here.

I had a similar encounter with third-graders at San Benito Elementary two or three years ago.

I discovered that these students were hungry for details.

One of the teachers warned me ahead of time to provide all the little facts I could because the kids seem to zero in on that kind of information.

I told them their town’s founder went to prison, that Jackie Robinson played baseball on the grounds of what is now the junior high and that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans stopped here to visit relatives.

I told them about climbing up between two walls in the City Administration Building and eventually climbing onto the roof.

I told them that the railroad tracks once came right downtown and showed them a picture of a whole train parked right there in the civic center with the steam engine up near the Administration Building and the passenger cars near the Printery.

One of the teachers had an excellent idea. She suggested that Tent City be prepped one day earlier and made available to all the third-graders the day before Colony Days or sometime during that week. Students could be bused to the site.

She made the excellent point that a lot of work goes into Tent City for it to be used for only one day.

And from what I’ve seen, local third-graders would be more than enthusiastic visitors to Tent City after being pumped full of local history by their excellent teachers.