Third and fourth grade students at Soldotna Elementary explored the not-too-distant past of their state at the Soldotna Homestead Museum on Thursday.
Fingers pressed up against glass cases, necks straining to see every corner of the museum’s restored cabins, the kids got a lesson in history from Soldotna’s first female homesteader, Marge Mullen, and other museum volunteers. Mullen regularly gives presentations at the school, but this was the first trip they have made to the museum itself, said Shaya Straw, who led a group of her third and fourth grade students.
“I think it’s super valuable to meet some people who actually settled here,” Straw said. “Kids won’t be able to do that much longer.”
The students made their way through the museum’s main building where they learned about old technology and the state flag, a one room schoolhouse —the teacher of which is still living — and several outbuildings relocated to the museum, where they got a taste for Alaska living prior to roads or electricity.
While on the tour, students learned that Alaska’s history is unique in that it is relatively short compared to other states, yet because of the time it took to get roads, electricity and other services to the area, much of its physical history looks much older. It is important for students to learn the history of their state, since they are the ones who will lead the community into the future, said Gayle Buben, a third grade teacher.
“It’s about life. It’s about Alaska and living here,” Buben said. “It’s about being a part of the community, but guess what this community didn’t just start yesterday, it started a long time ago. Where did it begin… how did we get here? It might even tell us a little bit about where we’re going.”
The museum tour is a good way for the kids to satisfy their learning requirements while having fun at the same time, Straw said.
“They’re meeting their social studies standards and cultural standards,” Straw said. “It’s all part of being Alaskan and knowing where you’re from.”
Among the students, one of the most popular spots at the museum was the one-room school house. Many of them rushed to sit down and explore the insides of the desks. One group even posed for a class picture with Straw.
Volunteer Paul Moses said the major differences between the life of a homesteader and life today hit home for the kids as they saw them with their own eyes.
“One kid, she sat at every desk, and opened every book and just was having a marvelous time,” he said. “She just stopped, and she said ‘there’s no place for the kids to plug in their cell here.’”
Having a physical representation of life in early Alaska will help drive the lesson home for students more clearly than through lecture alone, said Volunteer Bobbie O’Neill.
“They can see the buildings, they can see the school,” O’Neill said. “(Marge) tells the story, but basically this is what’s kind of showing the story.”