A wall of sound burst from dozens of third-graders at Tony Fabricius’s signal.

“Now everyone around here knows who’s visiting Sunset,” he said. “There’s no question.”

Students at Del Norte County Unified School District’s alternative school led their young counterparts from Redwood School through their second-growth redwood forest on Friday. The third-graders met Sunset’s farm animals, created a pencil holder under the watchful eye of the school’s shop students and, used metal detectors to find keys hidden in the grass.

For many of the third-graders, creating the pencil holder at Sunset High School was the first time they used a sander or a drill press, Fabricius said.

In woodshop, senior Santiago Lopez and his classmates had already cut wood blocks using the high school’s saw. When their young counterparts arrived, Lopez helped them use the sander to smooth out the edges and a drill press to create the holes the pencils will go in. The third-graders then took their new pencil holders to the school’s laser engraver to cut their names on the front.

Lopez, who has participated in Sunset High School’s experiential learning program for two years, said he’s not only earning school credit, he’s gaining knowledge and experience he can potentially add to his resume.

“It’s fun teaching the little kids how to do new things and (seeing) their experience and reaction to the stuff too,” Lopez said. “When they see the laser engraver, they get really happy.”

When the spring semester is finished, Sunset High School students will have worked with third-graders from every elementary school in the county, according to shop teacher Robyn Parker. In the fall, Sunset High hosted the district’s fifth-graders, she said.

About a month before Sunset starts hosting Del Norte’s third- and fifth-graders, its students meet with their instructors to discuss the different activities they’d like to do with their young charges, Parker said.

“We kind of discuss what we want to do, what would be age appropriate, how it would fit their needs and then the kids figure out what they want to do,” she said, adding that effort is also made to ensure that the activities meet learning standards for third and fifth grade. “Last semester we were talking about natural disasters and so we made little tool boxes.. This time (we looked at), what could we expect an 8-year-old to do in a workshop?”

Sunset students also meet with their advisors to decide what activities they should focus on, Parker said. They will earn credit in English for researching, writing reports and presenting the lessons, she said. Students participating in the farm presentation or the trek through the school’s 3 1/2 acre redwood forest could earn life science credit, Parker said. The teens choose what activity they want to focus on based on the credits they need to earn, she said.

During the rainy season, teens helped the 8-year-olds create a class Jenga set, making sure each game piece was sanded and engraved with the youngsters’ names, Parker said. Since the weather turned warmer, students instead decided on making pencil holders, she said.

“You have such a proud moment, feeling,” Parker said. “They’re so engaged and so sweet and adorable and these kids are terrified. Our kids are usually more scared than anybody to talk in front of little kids.”

Shawn Meyer, an instructional assistant at Sunset who oversaw the group of teens at the school’s farm, said as each class comes in, her students grow more comfortable with what they know and how they want to communicate it. This, she said, helps them focus more on their young charges to make sure they have a good time.

“On a normal basis, we’re teaching them, but on Fridays they get to teach the kids,” she said. “The spirit of the kids helps uplift them and makes them feel good about themselves.”

For Deja Wakefield’s third-graders, the field trip to Sunset is one of the highlights of the year. For some, they’re doing simple things like walking through the woods or chopping vegetables for the first time, Wakefield said.

Wakefield said for some of her students, Sunset High School is also where they catch the bus to Redwood. Being able to see the inside of the high school and get to know its staff and students helps make them more comfortable, she said.

“It’s really cool watching our kids interact with high school students and the high school students interact with the kids,” she said. “It’s a really neat thing that they do for these guys.”

Emmanuel Luna-Orozco, a Sunset High School junior, said working with the elementary school students is fun.

“It gives us a good feeling that we’re doing something to help out,” he said.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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