Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/today/30501Portillo2fmst2fsib.html

Local 4th-graders make history
The Arizona Daily Star
May 1, 2003
Ernesto Portillo Jr.

Ellen Murphy's fourth-grade students from Davis Bilingual Magnet School were getting their hands dirty Tuesday morning. It was hands-on learning of local history, a good kind of dirty, and the kids were loving it.

"Oh yeah," said Analisa Rodríguez, 10, which in kidspeak is a loud endorsement for this yearlong project involving research, field trips, lectures, writing and art.

The students were putting the final touches on historical exhibits they designed and created to feature Tucson's multicultural past.

"Cultural Currents /Corrientes Culturales" is a collaboration involving Davis, the Tucson Unified School District, Arizona State Museum and the city's Rio Nuevo Project.

It will have a free public showing 4-6:30 p.m. Monday at the Arizona State Museum's south building, near the university's main entrance on North Park Avenue.

Beth DeWitt, Arizona State Museum education program coordinator, called the Davis project unique for the time and intensity that the fourth-grade students brought to their work.

Since the start of the school year, Murphy's students have immersed themselves in Tucson's history.

The 21 students, in groups of three, used the Internet, read books, listened to speakers and traveled to historical sites in and around Tucson to gather the information.

Then they crafted museum displays, using Arizona State Museum artifacts as well as items borrowed from friends and family.

"They have amazed me at how well they have learned and how much they have remembered," said Murphy, an 18-year teacher at Davis, near West St. Mary's Road and Interstate 10.

One benefit from the project is the many lessons they learned from it - in language arts and math as well as history, she said.

"I knew the kids would learn better by doing this project," said Murphy.

Quizzing the students showed they were quick with their answers. A few sounded like experienced museum docents.

"The Paleoindians were the first people in Tucson. They were hunter-gatherers," said Bobby Camacho, 9.

Bobby's trio, which included Chelsea Haro, 10, and Rachel Cocío, 9, organized a display on the valley's first inhabitants. These were the mammoth-hunting Paleoindians and the Hohokam, Tucson's first farmers, who developed an irrigation system of ditches drawing water from the Santa Cruz River.

At a display on the Yoeme, three boys were tweaking parts to make sure it looked right.

"Yoeme? Who are they," the boys were asked.

"They are Yaquis. That's what they call themselves," said Anthony Chávez. He had worked with Francisco Lanz and Rubén Maravilla.

Their display contained two Pahkola masks the boys made, patterned after the traditional dress that Yoeme dancers don during their annual Easter dance ceremonies. The display also contained a hand-drawn replica of the Yoeme flag, brightly colored paper flowers to symbolize blessings and clay musical instruments hand-twisted by the boys.

The other students are Damian Carbajal, Vivian Colter, Briana Cuestas, Jorge García, Hailey Hagan, Kimberly Harrimon, Alex Layman, Francisco López, Nora Maldonado, Victoria Parker, Gabriela Rincón, Alexis Rodríguez, Abriana Romero and Andrea Sánchez.

We can rest a little easier about preserving Tucson's past with so many young historians so dedicated to the task.

* Contact Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 573-4242 or e-mail netopjr@azstarnet.com. He's on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV, Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and
midnight Fridays.