Poking his head out the window of a red, horse-drawn stagecoach, Carlos Mora, 13, said he was imagining how Santa Ana looked more than 100 years ago, when the land was covered with fields of mustard growing taller than a man on horseback.
As the four horses’ hoofs clattered on the asphalt parking lot at McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Mora said that this history lesson really made an impression on him. In other classes, “sometimes I just draw, I don’t even listen (because teachers) just talk and talk.” But in this class, he wants to learn because, he said, “it’s more fun.”
The coach ride on Thursday was part of an ambitious nine-month program aimed at educating students with poor reading skills about the past, using the computer technology of the future.
Throughout the school year, more than 220 students involved in the “Santa Ana Kids Project” will help take thousands of photos of the area, interview civic leaders and compile their information into a state-of-the art multimedia system which mixes computer and video technology.
When the project is completed in May, students will be able to push a button and summon color images of their coach ride, accompanied by strains of music, or call up historical photos of City Hall, along with a description of what life was like in the area at the turn of the century. More than 2,000 photos and video images, as well as text describing Santa Ana history since the 1600s, will be included on a single laser disc.
The project, which project coordinator and history teacher Myrna Orr began this year with a $12,000 federal grant, has snowballed with the assistance of more than a dozen local businesses, which are supplying the students with $100,000 worth of computer software, equipment, and photo-processing services.
Matt Onachy, 13, praised the class as well as Orr’s enthusiasm for teaching it. “It doesn’t feel like you’re doing homework. It’s really cool. You just sit down and you could go all day. Even if I got transferred, I’d still go to her class.”
When it is completed, the project will cover a broad range of topics, including the city’s historical sites, businesses, and agriculture, and it will be displayed at a local museum. The students, who are learning typing, computer and photography skills in the class as well as history, will do almost all of the work themselves.
“It’s a great hands-on learning project,” said assistant project coordinator Judy Kooi. The students’ enthusiasm “is like night and day when they have this at their disposal.”
Viviana Toledano, 11, agrees.
“You actually learn more than just sitting there and listening to a teacher because sometimes you get bored,” said Viviana, who is charged with researching historical sites.
“Before, we really didn’t know” anything about the city’s courthouse and jail, she said, but she and her classmates found that “it really is interesting because we get to learn about how it was back then. We know how they dress and see how different times were. I never knew that Santa Ana was one big mustard field.”
“They should do this for every class,” she added.