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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga students lead fourth-graders through Riverfront Park in district-wide excursion to ‘feel more connected to their community’

Mullan Road Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Amy Pontarolo, lower right, snaps a picture of her students on the Red Wagon after they participated in an Expo ’74 field trip to Riverfront Park on Tuesday. Fourth-grade students from around the city toured eight sites.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Local fourth-graders swarmed Riverfront Park on Monday, learning the history of the area on the heels of the 50th anniversary of Expo ‘74.

To them, the pre-expo Spokane is ancient history that took place before many of their parents were born. A partnership between Spokane Public Schools and Gonzaga University allowed them to wrap their little heads around the world’s fair that shaped downtown Spokane, unveiling the decadesold antiquity of the park.

“Having kids understand the historical context of the place they live I think really just helps them feel more connected to their community and understand the impacts can be long lasting,” district curriculum director Stephanie Kerwien said. “They can have an impact on their community that may live 50 years into the future.”

All fourth-graders in the district went on the field trip tour of Riverfront Park led by Gonzaga students studying education and history.

Tour guides were stationed at several points around the park to share the backstory of each area, including Indigenous history and tribal use of the area before contact with white settlers and Expo ‘74, which 50 years ago was celebrated at Riverfront Park.

Some of the kids were Riverfront regulars, with fond memories feeding the garbage goat or sliding down the enormous red wagon. Others hadn’t been to the 100-acre park surrounding the river and bordering downtown Spokane. Both groups learned something about the history of the area.

“I grew up here, and we used to go to these places a lot,” said Hutton elementary fourth-grader Maddie McFarland, who never gets bored visiting the park. Her favorite feature is the raging Spokane River, she said.

Hutton fourth-grader Katherine Gordon shared an affinity for the waterway, recalling memories with her family immortalized in a photo kept on her family’s refrigerator.

“It reminds me of when we used to come down here with my siblings,” Katherine said.

“I’ve never been here at all in my life,” one student declared to a tour guide while learning about the lower Spokane Falls. Guides told the students about the Grand Coulee Dam that largely blocked salmon migration on the Columbia and Spokane rivers, on which the Spokane Tribe relied as a food source and intrinsic cultural icon.

The park was abuzz with hyper Spokane fourth-graders, excited to see highlights like the Ice Age Floods Playground, where they learned about the Missoula floods that carved out the region 13,000 to 15,000 years ago. The Garbage Goat was another anticipated stop, with kids scrounging for scraps of litter to feed the metal sculpture with an internal vacuum to inhale trash.

“It’s a lot of energy from the kids,” Montessori teacher Pete Goettert said as fourth-graders clamored around him, fighting for his attention. “It’s a balance; we’re balancing the fun and the learning.”

Students received coupons for a free roller skate rental at the Numerica Skate Ribbon to entice them to return to the park and share all they learned from the day.

“The best outcome of this is if any of these students come back with their families and teach them like, ‘Oh, when we came for the field trip, we learned about the clock tower and that there used to be railroads that came right through here and those railroads were removed so that they can have the fair 50 years ago,’ ” said Gonzaga history professor Ray Rast, whose students in his Pacific Northwest history class lead tours.

Around 50 Gonzaga students worked as tour guides, getting credit for their associated classes.

Most were studying education, proteges of professor John Traynor, who came up with the project to benefit both the young learners and aspiring teachers in university.

“I remember field trips as something I vividly remember rather than a little mini lesson about salmon,” said Gonzaga sophomore Zaidee Smith, studying elementary special education with the hopes of becoming an elementary school teacher.

She recognized many of the kids who came through her tour, having student-taught at several local elementary schools.

“Getting up, involved and moving leaves an impact not only on students but the community, too, in coming together,” she said.