NACOGDOCHES, Texas - Whispers of "This is the coolest place ever" and "This is the best day" drift through the 1837 Millard-Lee House at Millard's Crossing Historic Village in Nacogdoches as dozens of third-grade students approach a frozen figure in the living wax museum. As a student rings the bell, Stephen F. Austin State University elementary education major Ciara Johnson of Houston springs to life as Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female aviator.
"Bessie was determined to become an aviator, so she learned French and went to France to get her license. She did all this to achieve her dream," Johnson said.
For more than 20 years, SFA, area schools and Millard's Crossing Historic Village have collaborated to bring the past to life in an interactive field trip known as Pioneer Days. Roz Couch, assistant director of Millard's Crossing Historic Village, explained how this program benefits all participants.
"It's part of our mission to preserve these historic buildings and their contents so people can see what life was like in the old days," Couch said. "I'm so proud of this program. Since we've been doing this for more than 20 years, it's become multigenerational - people who came here as kids now have their kids coming here. It's so exciting. I get chill bumps just talking about it."
Event coordinator and organizer Dr. Vicki Thomas, assistant professor of elementary education at SFA, agrees Pioneer Days serves a dual purpose of educating area school students about Texas history while providing SFA students an avenue to practice their teaching techniques.
"For many of our students, this is their first time teaching in whole group situations, and this field trip helps them learn to facilitate larger groups of students," Thomas said. "It also helps education majors hone their craft, as they breathe life into their stations."
During the event, SFA elementary education students enrolled in an elementary education social studies course interact with third graders through a variety of experiential learning activities, such as the living wax museum. In the museum, students take on the personas of Nacogdoches and Texas historic figures, including Nettie Marshall, Anna Raguet, Lera Millard Thomas, Stephen F. Austin, Bessie Coleman and Willie Lee Campbell.
Millard's Crossing Historic Village received a grant to reopen its 1840s dogtrot house, and this was the first time a tour was offered during Pioneer Days. Community member Ingrid Davidson demonstrated spinning yarn on a spinning wheel at the dogtrot.
"We thought it would be a unique experience to see a dogtrot home with many artifacts inside, but Ingrid's spinning wheel added a special touch and really got the students excited," Thomas said.
Overall, there were 10 activity stations during the event, which included a rug cleaning and tools demonstration, corn shelling, garden plowing, washboard laundry, a lesson in the one-room schoolhouse, a pump organ demonstration, a "make-and-take" toy activity, spinning lessons, old-fashioned games and the living wax museum.
Hundreds of area elementary school students attended the event.