Newell Elementary students might always associate crossing the Rocky Mountains with pushing a shopping cart up Tornado Hill.
The big hill next to Ryder Park stood in for the Rockies for Newell fourth-graders, who spent a good part of Friday imagining they were living in 1849. The kids pushed shopping carts from Shopko, which were dressed up to resemble covered wagons.
The 62 kids began the grueling journey in Independence, Mo., which was actually Newell Elementary. Along the way, they stopped at Fort Kearny (actually Walnut Elementary). During the trek, they spotted Chimney Rock (CHI Health St. Francis) and crossed the Sandhills.
The students took a break, where they wrote in their journals. “And then we crossed the Rocky Mountains before we had our lunch,” said Danielle Dudo, one of three Newell fourth-grade teachers who accompanied the students on the trip.
After such an epic morning, the lunch was well-deserved. In addition to eating, the students played games at Independence Rock, which was actually Ryder Park.
“We’ll cross Soda Springs on the way back. We followed the Platte River,” Dudo said.
The students left Newell at 9:10 a.m., with second-graders yelling, “Goodbye, families. We’ll miss you!”
After playing games and singing songs, the students loaded up their gear and set out again, finally making it to Oregon at about 2:45 p.m.
The Newell destination represented the Barlow River crossing. “So they’ll have to decide, ‘Are we taking the Columbia River or are we taking the Barlow Pass?’” Dudo said at lunchtime.
The Ft. Kearny stop served as a trading post.
Emmy Winslow, 10, pulled off a good deal. “I traded some sugar for some beef jerky,” said the daughter of Jenny and Tyson Winslow.
After arriving at Ryder, the students pushed the 15 shopping carts much of the way up Tornado Hill and then brought them back down.
The students weren’t allowed to use their hands in bringing the carts down. “So it was really kind of a cooperative-learning, team-building activity,” Dudo said. Some of the kids used ropes. Others used bandannas or flannel shirts to navigate the carts.
Kiara Cortez has never sledded down Tornado Hill. But the 9-year-old, who’s the daughter of John and Sandra Cortez, liked going down the hill with a shopping cart.
Bealen Wilson also liked tackling the hill, even though it was “challenging and hard.”
During the day, the students explored “how the olden days were before we had electronics and cars,” said the 10-year-old daughter of Ada and Egare Wilson.
The students learned to play new games which involved “more exercise” than electronic games, Wilson said.
The pioneer games included Button Button, Handkerchief Drop and pickup sticks.
The students sang “Polly Wolly Doodle, “Skip to My Lou” and other timeless numbers. At Fort Kearny, the students made butter. Later, they enjoyed corn bread and pioneer lemonade.
Nebraska fourth-graders traditionally learn about the Oregon Trail. “We’ve spent the last two months learning about the Oregon Trail and how the pioneers traveled west,” Dudo said. “So this is just to make it real-life for them.”
When they left Newell Friday morning, the time was meant to be April 30, 1849.
Teachers told the kids to use their imagination. They provided opportunities for the students to experience hardship. “I have a pioneer girl going around giving them cholera,” Dudo said. They were also subjected to other make-believe diseases, as well as snakebites.
The students used a piece of fabric, dowels and twine to create a canopy above the shopping carts. Each wagon was equipped with a Bible. Students had a pillow case to hold all their belongings.
Before they hit the Rockies, they had to unload some of the items from the shopping carts to lessen their load. If they had a wagon mishap, they weren’t allowed to pick up the cart, because covered wagons were too heavy to lift.
This was the first time Newell students made the arduous journey. Dudo saw the idea on Twitter, and received cooperation from two Kearney teachers who’d done the same thing. Dudo hopes to make the outing an annual event.
The Grand Island Community Foundation awarded the school $850 to buy supplies. Developer Ray O’Connor gave them a great deal on the shopping carts. The money will go toward the O’Connor Early Learning Center.
The other Newell fourth-grade teachers who took part were Stephanie Finnegan and Andrea Poltack.
Newell students admitted that the 1.5-mile walk was exhausting. Told that she would need a nap after school, Wilson didn’t disagree.
Any outdoor exercise that leaves students worn out is bound to go over well with parents and grandparents.