History comes to life

By Leslie Silverman

A NINETEENTH CENTURY LESSON — Fourth grader Abigail Stietz shows the typical fourth grade math students would learn in the 1890s. Stietz says her current math class is much harder. [PN Photo/LESLIE SILVERMAN]

Each year the Keystone museum plays host to local school children in a program called Living History.

Put on by the Black Hills retired teachers, it’s an opportunity for students to experience what a classroom from the early 1890s was like.

Bonita Ley directs the school program.

“We send out letters 70 miles around,” Ley said. “I set up all the field trips. Then I find teachers and assistants to help out.  A lot of the teachers and assistants belong to the Black Hills Retired School Personnel.”

Ley, originally from Keystone, attended the school for eight grades. She has ties to Carrie Ingalls and also began the Pioneer Day at her school where she did a Carrie presentation for many years.

A former Douglas School District teacher, Ley has been leading the program since 2003, although the program has been going on for much longer. Over 600 students visited the museum during the program this year.

“Some schools send all their fourth (grade),” she said. “We do basically second grade through fifth grade, but we’ve also done kindergarten, first and second.”

The program is open to public, private and homeschool children. This year’s program is five days.

“We used to be two days,” Ley said. “Then we got more kids and we became three days. We were doing both a morning and an afternoon session.”

Both the children and the volunteers were less engaged in the afternoon sessions so the program expanded to five days a week, mornings only. Since doing it that way the program’s numbers have gone up.

The children arrive at the museum at about 9:30 a.m. for the two-hour program.

“We spend an hour upstairs and an hour downstairs and outside,” Ley said. “We do 20 minutes in the Carrie corner, 20 minutes in the museum and 20 minutes on a walk.”

The walking portion allows students to see the first school that dates back to the late 1890s. Kids who visit the museum get an attendance slip, a piece of quartz, a pencil and an eraser.

Jessica Bernhagen teaches fourth grade at Piedmont Valley Elementary.

“This is kind of a tradition for the fourth grades classes at Piedmont,” Bernhagen said. “We’ve talked about South Dakota history and all it entails so this is the cherry on the ice cream. We’ve been prepared for this and excited for this for awhile.”

The elementary school provides the period dress that the students wear, pinafores and bonnets for girls, caps and suspenders for boys.

While upstairs at the museum, students get to take classes as if they were in the 1890s. They sit at wooden desks writing on personal chalkboards.

“I’m not used to it and it’s a little harder to write than with pencil and lead,” said Abigail Stietz, a fourth grade student at Piedmont.

Stietz enjoyed the experience, bonnet and all.

“At first I didn’t think there were so many things about it that were so cool until we came to this museum,” she said.