After using a traditional metate — or mealing stone — to manually grind a small pile of dried corn, Ben Gordnier acknowledged that the process was a lot more labor-intensive than it seemed.
It also gave Ben, a fourth-grader at Santa Barbara’s Washington Elementary School, a new appreciation for the tortilla-making process.
“It was hard,” he said as he gathered with some of his classmates. “I thought all you had to do was drive to the store and buy one.”
That primitive process was one of several that Ben and nearly 800 other fourth-graders from around the state got to experience first-hand Thursday at La Purisima Mission. The students — who came from schools as far away as Bakersfield and Malibu — spent about four hours at the Mission touring the grounds and taking part in living history demonstrations with the docents and park rangers.
“They do an amazing job making things like they were when the Mission was operational,” said Kary O’Brien, who chaperoned a group, including her son, from Mountain View Elementary in Goleta. “They got to see the blacksmith and his wife, and the turkeys and the pigs and the pottery. It’s just been very informative.”
About 770 students, plus another 257 teachers and chaperones were at the Mission as part of the statewide curriculum for fourth-graders to learn about the history of California and the state’s Missions.
Among the more popular demonstrations of the day, along with the tortilla station, were areas for pottery and candle-making, as well as a room with various animal hides.
As one group made its way to the candle station, which was set up around a bench near the front of the Mission’s main building, a student commented that the beeswax looked like melted cheese.
Another student, who had just dipped his finger in the hot wax, shook his hand to air-dry it as he assured the incoming group that it wasn’t cheese.
“It’s been so awesome,” Marcus Chan, who was in O’Brien’s group from Mountain View, said of the field trip.
Kim Sims, who has been a docent for almost a year, said she enjoyed working with the student groups on Thursday. Sims, whose hands were still covered in clay as she took a short break, helped at the pottery station.
“I don’t have kids and I guess I’m not really a ‘kid person,’” she said with a laugh, “but this is fun and these kids are really smart.”
She said that some of the questions and answers provided by the students surprised her.
“You can tell that they’ve studied this stuff in school because they know a lot,” she said. “This is kind of a neat way to get hands-on experience with it.”
O’Brien, who had never been to Lompoc’s Mission before, said she was already looking forward to when her younger daughter reaches the fourth grade.
“I definitely plan on coming back with her so she can participate in this, too,” she said.