Real Life Social Studies

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It is one thing to learn about a new culture from the pages of a book. It is another thing to look into the faces of a people, to taste their food and feel the texture of their day to day.

When a group of 11 Pine-Strawberry School sixth-graders visited the Pinon Middle School on the Navajo Indian Reservation, the first thing they learned was that corn was a staple in the diet and the culture of the natives of the Colorado Plateau.

The students got to sample blue corn mush.

"Learning how to make the blue corn mush was fun," said sixth grader Nicole Hallan. "They use juniper or pine ash and they grind up corn." After it is mixed together, boiling water is added. "It tasted like really old corn."

Fellow student Katrina Kueny added a bit of sugar to hers and thought it tasted similar to oatmeal.

After a Pinon student, nicknamed "Boo," broke the ice at lunchtime, the children from both schools started communicating over Navajo tacos.

Everyone liked eating the authentic fry bread -- the base for Indian tacos.

"The school librarian came in and made fry bread for us," Kueny said. Unlike fry bread she'd had before, this was "thick and full of bread. There was no air in it. It was really good."

Michaela Wilcox and Shelby Stuart plan to try making fry bread at home.

But the students did more than eat during their visit.

They each took turns weaving a few rows on a Navajo rug.

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Native American church, which the Pine-Strawberry sixth-grade students visited, takes place in a 30-foot-tall teepee.

The looms students learned to weave rugs on were about three feet high.

"We got to weave with wool (the woman who taught us) had spun," Bethany Sprinkle said. "Some of it she had dyed."

It is something Shaylah Parssinen has always wanted to try.

The students also visited a sweat lodge and learned where sweat lodges fit in their host's culture.

White, grey, yellow and black string tied the branches that formed the lodge together.

"The sweat lodge can represent a mother's womb," said Sarah Davis. "They put nine rocks for the nine months a child is in the womb. The branches the lodge is made with represent her ribs.

"One of the purposes of a sweat is to purify yourself."

Native American church, which the students also visited, takes place in a 30-foot tall teepee.

The beating of the drum is a big part of the church ceremony and the students got a chance to try their hand at it.

"Because of the snow storm we missed getting to hike around Canyon de Chelly and seeing the ruins there," said Pine teacher Stacy Flanagan. "So the trip was fun and exciting but short."

Michael Clark, principal of the Pine Strawberry School has extended the invitation for Pinon to visit next year.

Students at Pinon Middle School were "different but not too different," said Sarah Bellah. She hopes her new friends will come and visit Pine.

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