August 8, 2008

Program Offers Hands-on History Lessons

By Imani Tate

Staff Writer

History puts the present in perspective and improves future focus.

And learning California history through hands-on experiences helps children retain its knowledge and appreciate its lessons, added Hands On History co-founders, teachers and supporters in Bonita Unified School District.

That's why a committee of school and civic officials, parents and its creators launched a fundraising campaign to save the program established as a nonprofit organizational effort for fourth-grade students in La Verne and San Dimas public schools.

Parents and residents in both cities will receive letters requesting donations to retain the program threatened by BUSD budgetary constraints.

"There is no doubt we are working to keep Sacramento's budget reductions away from our classrooms," said BUSD Superintendent Gary Rapkin. "But the sad reality is some programs will be affected."

The $16 billion California budget deficit prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a "fiscal emergency" and the Legislature to call for 10 percent reductions in all state-funded programs, including education.

Hands On History was created with the formation of a nonprofit educational organization. BUSD trustees incorporated the $45,000 program into the district budget in the mid-1990s. The state fiscal crisis now threatens the program. Its continued existence relies on community contributions.

Donors may make checks payable to Bonita Council PTA, specifying Hands On History, and mail to Bonita Council PTA, 115 W. Allen Ave., San Dimas 91773. Additional information: (909) 971-8200, ext. 5320.

Hands On History was founded in 1989 by La Verne businessman and Councilman Don Kendrick and Grace Miller Elementary School teachers Shaunna Gygli, Janice Willett and Carolyn Gomm. The three teachers are now retired, but Gygli remains in the Inland Valley and serves as the program's only staff person.

Kendrick, whose family was among the pioneers of La Verne, said Hands On History asserts that "history is learned by going into the past" and "children remember it best when they can touch it, see it and taste it."

Gygli pointed out the value of hands-on activities, integration of subject matter and cooperative learning in effectively educating children.

"You can give kids more opportunities by taking the world into the classroom and taking students into the world," she said. "This program also tells kids diversity is good and all cultures have added to the fabric of our country."

San Dimas Councilman Denis Bertone, Rapkin and Kendrick said the BUSD Board of Education and San Dimas and La Verne city councils unanimously passed resolutions supporting the program staging Native American, Rancho and Gold Rush camps, respectively, in San Dimas Canyon Park, Pomona's Palomares Adobe and San Dimas Canyon/ Glendora's Big Dalton Canyon Park.

Douglas Tubbs, Bonita Council PTA president; parent activist and council program vice president Carrin Bouchard; and Melissa Smith, BUSD's director of student support services, are members of the fundraising committee with Kendrick, Ggyli and Bertone.

Hands On History has enjoyed support from different groups. Claremont Colleges' archeological students donated artifacts. Bonita and San Dimas high schools' vocational students made cutting boards, tortilla presses and wooden saw horses for roping for the Rancho Days. BUSD parents and Chaparral Continuation High School students volunteer as teachers' aides. Docents from La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona Valley historical societies conduct tours and talk with students about historically significant people and places.

"It is true if you don't learn from the past, you make mistakes in the future," Gygli said. "Young people need to see role models from the past and in the present. With the emphasis on testing, kids don't get to have much fun, and learning needs to be fun, if it is to be a lifetime habit.

"This program is particularly important because of the concentration on testing and the fact that social studies is not one of the areas tested," she added.

Bertone is a retired U. S. history teacher and counselor from Los Angeles Unified School District. Bouchard is a BUSD health, library and support staff substitute. Tubbs is a Southern California Gas Co. project adviser. Smith served as Gladstone Elementary School principal and San Dimas High assistant principal before joining the district administrative team. Kendrick owns Don Kendrick Real Estate.

History is as diverse as they are, they said.

Smith said Hands On History interacts well with teachers' instructional lessons and improves hands-on experiences for social studies, math, music and art.

"From a parental point-of-view, it reminds our children how California developed, gives them a glimpse into the past and prepares them for the future," Tubbs said. "We want children to have their own voice. When we provide them with historical information, they can connect the voices of the past with the voices of the present."

Bertone and Kendrick claimed communities' quality of life and the democratic process rely on people being historically informed so they can make better topical and future choices. Schools are an integral part of any community's quality of life expectations, Bertone added.

"The more people know about the past, the more pride they can have in the accomplishments of their ancestors and respect they develop for others," Kendrick said.

Bouchard said Hands On History program gives children fond memories of their school days. The three camps conducted for fourth- graders at Allen Avenue, Ekstrand, Gladstone and Shull schools in San Dimas as well as Grace Miller, La Verne Heights, Oak Mesa and Roynon schools in La Verne enhance those reflections, she said.

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