Seeds of discovery at fairgrounds

By Jessica Cejnar, The Del Norte Triplicate

Twenty or so third-graders arranged themselves according to gender and trooped into Redwood School No. 2, leaving the 21st century and all its freedoms behind.

They sat in antique desks and under the direction of their teacher, Ben Zumeta, and recited their multiplication tables by threes.

"Zero times three equals zero. One times three equals three. Two times three equals six."

It was like it was 1902.

When the youngsters, students from Joe Hamilton Elementary School, reached nine times three equals 27, Zumeta rapped on the blackboard with his pointer.

"Again!" he barked. "If you were back in 1902 you would spend a good hour reciting that."

Zumeta, a ranger with Redwood National and State Parks, repeated his arithmetic lesson to third-graders from almost every school in Del Norte County on Friday. In addition to spending about 15 minutes as a student in the early 1900s, the youngsters attended the Ruby Van Deventer Wildflower Show and viewed a caboose owned by the Hobbs, Wall and Co. lumber company.

Prior to their visit to the fairgrounds, the students received a coloring book with local wildflowers. They were given about 15 minutes to examine delicate flower petals and get a glimpse of an insectivorous cobra plant. Each student left the fairgrounds with a bag of wildflower seeds.

"They gave all teachers packets of information and every child got a wildflower book," said Shari Smithson, Uncharted Shores Academy's co-director. "They dissected flowers and found all the parts to prepare them."

Friday's trip to the fairgrounds coincides with the state-mandated curriculum for third graders, which focuses on local history, geography and flora and fauna, Smithson said. Before attending the wildflower show, teachers talked with the students about Ruby Van Deventer, deceased Del Norte botanist and teacher, and they discussed what a botanist does.

Youngsters even got to taste certain edible native plants, including the California bay leaf and fresh green spruce tips.

"It feels like you're growing into a tree," said Tyler Goodman, a student at Uncharted Shores Academy, putting a bay leaf on her tongue. "It tastes foresty."

Charlene Storr, a Tolowa Nation member and traditional storyteller, brought her collection of edible native plants, allowing students to smell salves made of calendula and sample wild onion. She even displayed an herbal remedy for cough, cold and flu symptoms.

"You can't starve in Del Norte County," she said.

Back in the tiny schoolhouse, Zumeta outlined the school rules and told his students how teachers were expected to behave. Redwood School originally sat on North Bank Road before a handful of former students transported it to its current location in 1994, Zumeta said.

Back in 1902, students were expected to bring a slate and a slate pencil to class, and left-handed students were forced to write with their right hand, Zumeta said. Students took turns bringing firewood to class, and if they forgot or the wood was cut sloppily they had to sit as far away from the fire as possible, he said.

"You were expected to have a happy attitude," Zumeta said. "And much of the free-thinking and creativity you do today was not part of school."

The wildflower show will continue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the fairgrounds. Admission is free.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at .

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