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Herding Fourth-Graders to an Old Cattle Ranch and into the Future

Chaperoning a fourth-grade field trip to Sanchez Adobe offers a taste of life on a rancho in the mid 1800s—and a glimpse of my own family's future.

I spend a lot of time at my kids’ awesome elementary school—, to be specific—doing all manner of volunteer work. I assist with our amazing science program, I volunteer in the library, I work the book fair, I help out in Sasha’s classroom…and I somehow ended up being a room parent for both kids’ classes this year, even though I hate asking people for things and am probably the least organized person you will ever meet. In short: I like helping out at school, and I’m very grateful that I have the luxury to do so.

That said, I generally adhere to a strict no-field-trips policy. My reasons for this are two-fold: 1) There are lots of other parents who like to do field trips, so I’m not usually needed; and 2) I hate driving. And parking. And herding kids around.

But now that A.J. is in fourth grade, I don’t get to spend as much time in the trenches with him as I did when he was younger. Although his teacher is happy to have parents help out, A.J. is no longer thrilled at the thought of my presence in his classroom. So when I found out that his class was going on a field trip to —and that they would be walking there—I decided to sign up as a chaperone. 

And I am so glad that I did. I may be considerably more clueless than most Pacifica residents, but I had only the vaguest idea that the old adobe building on Linda Mar Boulevard even existed. Turns out it’s a little piece of California history right in my own neighborhood. Designated a historic landmark in 1953, the Sanchez Adobe site was in earlier incarnations an Ohlone village and a mission farm. In 1839, the land was granted to Francisco Sanchez, Commandante of the San Francisco Presidio and alcade of the city of San Francisco. Sanchez built the adobe residence between 1842 and 1846, and he operated a cattle ranch on the site. Learning about this rancho era is part of the California fourth-grade curriculum, and visiting Sancho Adobe affords an opportunity for students to experience what life was really like.

The other parents and I helped shepherd all 29 students the 1.3-mile trek from school to Sanchez Adobe, where we received our instructions for the day’s work. There were cornmeal-grinding and candle-making stations, a cattle-roping area, and a big mud pit for making actual adobe bricks. This last feature was the most popular among the student, who got to take their shoes off and slog through the mud pit, then shape the mud into bricks. The parents assigned to this area were required to employ crowd-control tactics to prevent kids from plunging headfirst into the mud pit, and then had the fun task of helping them all wash up afterward.

My assignment was decidedly less glamorous: I showed students how to grind corn using a stone matate and mano, then sift the meal through a woven basket. But I actually found it strangely satisfying; the act of grinding corn into meal had a pleasing, meditative rhythm, in stark contrast to just popping into Safeway to buy bread. I imagined what life would have been like on that rancho, my days consumed with tasks geared toward survival instead of decisions about whether or not to chaperone a field trip.

The walk back to school seemed much longer, with all 29 kids dragging their muddy feet, but it was actually my favorite part of the day. As much as I liked learning about life on a California rancho, I loved talking with A.J.’s classmates. I won’t embarrass him by going into any details here; suffice it to say that fourth-graders are actual people, with their own quirky personalities and opinions and dramas. Afterward, I found myself trying to imagine what the future holds for us: the angst of the pre-teen years, the emotional maelstrom of adolescence...and beyond. As terrifying as that all seems to me now, I can say one thing with relative certainty: at least it won’t be boring.

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For more information about Sanchez Adobe, visit their website. You can find out more about the fourth-grade rancho program here.

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Phyllis McArthur November 05, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Hi Stephanie, this is such a great story! When my daughter was in grade school, I did the same, and yes, my favorite was spending time with all of the children. Yeah, they are really just mini people. We introduced healthy snacks (way back in the 70's) and the kids actually liked them.
Stephanie Trelogan November 06, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Thank you, Phyllis! I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to volunteer and see my children in their natural habitats. :-) Now, tell me more about these healthy snacks, will you?
Phyllis McArthur November 06, 2011 at 11:10 PM
Actually we introduced the kids to raw vegis, dipped in (groan!) high fat creamy dips. No worries, we washed it all down with Dr. Pepper. It was the 70's after all..... We took baby steps.
Stephanie Trelogan November 09, 2011 at 01:39 AM
HA! I'm not sure snacks have gotten much healthier, to be honest. But yes, baby steps.

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