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June 25, 2013 > Stitching up history at "Gold Rush Day"

Stitching up history at "Gold Rush Day"

Submitted By Johnna M. Laird
Photos By Katelyn Cobb

As public school wrapped up its final days, fourth graders from Glenmoor School in Fremont were already thinking of summer and a visit to the Alameda County Fair, hoping to see three quilts they stitched together as a Fair entry. On display in the Open Youth Division ages 9-11, the quilts were created as part of Glenmoor School's "Gold Rush Day," an annual event where parents set up a Gold Rush town onsite to help students experience life as it was more than 160 years ago.

"I really liked getting to sew," says Jasmine Reynaud-Singh. "I liked how Mrs. Graff arranged the quilts, and then we could sew the quilting pieces we made in class."

Held on June 14, "Gold Rush Day" gave students a chance to meander through a re-created town of cardboard buildings that included a general store, saloon, a bank and assayer's office, plus a dozen maker-style shops, where students could whittle (soap), sew a bookmark, stitch a quilt, create Patty Reed's Doll, knit, and make a button and string toy.

"I think all fourth graders should have this experience," says Abi Shiva, a fourth grader this past school year. "I got to experience the life of a miner, panning for gold. Miners had to work hard to get money, hence many didn't make money. Now I understand the life of a miner. With the hands-on experiences, I got to see how banks functioned and many more things. It was a fun learning opportunity."

"Instead of just reading about California history in a book," says Tim DeGuzman, another former fourth grader, "we got to relive it with the Gold Rush Day experience.

"By doing it this way, I got to see what the pioneers were thinking, what they thought about California, and how they lived. I think it is important for fourth graders to have this experience," adds DeGuzman, who participated first as an apprentice working at several shops and then as a miner, panning for gold in icy water and later spending his money at the saloon, general store, and chuck wagon.

At "Gold Rush Day" students also had the chance to pan for gold, shake butter, and churn ice cream as well as sample sarsaparilla, homemade root beer, lemonade, and sourdough bread. On the open field, students steer-roped a metal cow, wrote in Chinese, used a quill to pen a letter home for transport by Pony Express, and observed demonstrations in glassblowing and blacksmithing. Parents put in more than 100 volunteer hours even before the town opened.

The quilting project began nearly two weeks before "Gold Rush Day" when fourth grade parent Janet Graff visited three classrooms to help students begin the quilting process, educating them first on the history of quilts and their place in pioneer life. Graff had volunteered twice before to quilt with students when she had other children in fourth grade. In 2009, a single quilt that all three fourth grade classrooms contributed to, won 1st place in the Education Division, Elementary School Exhibits (K-6th, Division 966 for grades three through six).

Graff, who took time off from her work as a senior computer programmer for IBM mainframes to volunteer over three days, views Gold Rush as a highlight experience in elementary school for her children. "Immersion into the subject matter brings the hardships and simplicity of life during the westward expansion alive," she says. Quilting for four years, Graff also believes in making time for hobbies and crafts; she has a myriad of them. "For years our society has been de-emphasizing the tactile, trade-supported crafting in favor of the non-tangible cerebral pursuits of business. By guiding students through quilting, students realize they can create a tangible, usable object out of base materials. Once they've sewn a quilt, sewing on a button doesn't seem like such a challenge. How large of a step is it from creating a quilt from fabric and thread to creating a machine out of metal and screws?"

View Glenmore School quilts and more local creations at the Alameda Country Fair through July 7.

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