Fourth-graders Sam West and Dani Thomas-Nathan sat behind a booth Friday morning selling copies of the Golden Gazette newspaper for $1 each.
It was 1849 at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School, the peak of the California Gold Rush, and Gold Town was bustling with dozens of students dressed in cowboy hats, bandannas and bonnets.
On the front page of the Gazette in Gold Town, reporters Sam and Dani had published an article about a miner who was hospitalized after falling into a river while panning for gold, as well as a story about another man who was caught eating gold.
“The articles were fun because we got to make up unrealistic stories,” Sam, 9, said. The week before, she and her classmates dug through the sandbox for gold, from which she pocketed $470 to spend at her classmates’ booths.
“It was pretty fun,” she said.
Across the way from the newspaper stand was the Gold Mill Jail, where authorities were offering a $10 reward for the capture of a suspected murderer named Jeremy.
“I think it’s amazing. The kids put on a whole little town and are taking ownership of their roles,” parent Jennifer Hunt said.
Luke Mahoney, 9, was patrolling the town as sheriff. Luke said his most important arrest was of a man who got caught “claim jumping,” or stealing another’s claim to land for mining.
“I love it because I get to arrest people and it’s fun,” said Luke, wearing a blue vest and sheriff’s badge as he sought a $10 bail from his fellow classmate.
“You can’t arrest me without any charges,” the classmate said.
Two other fourth-grade classes at Roosevelt created their own towns. Besides, the town jail and newspaper, students in the three participating fourth-grade classes were in charge of either City Hall, the local theater, general store or restaurant in their respective towns.
Fourth-grade teacher Carol Walcoff, who has been teaching at Roosevelt for 18 years, said the Gold Rush-simulation project was a hands-on learning experience for her students.
“They remember it forever,” Walcoff said.