Britney Curtis simply could not believe that Payson pioneers Henry and Sarah Haught and their five children lived in the single tiny cabin. The cabin now sits on the banks of the lake at Green Valley Park between the Zane Grey Cabin and the Rim Country Museum.
“So, is that what it actually looked like?” asked Curtis.
Docent Peter Bernard chuckled at the astonishment in her voice.
“Yes, but they did a tremendous amount of living outside,” said Bernard.
“Did they have bunk beds?” asked Curtis.
“The children probably slept in the loft,” replied Bernard.
Curtis shook her head in disbelief.
She and five of her classmates spent the day at the museums near Green Valley Park with their social studies teacher, Dennis Pirch.
The students come from Payson Education Center (PEC), the alternative high school created for students who often do not fit in a traditional scholastic setting.
PEC was started to help children who are round pegs in a square-hole world. Just as the pioneers struggled to start new lives, the students at PEC strive to complete their education and prepare for a successful life. They might come from broken homes, they might have made bad choices that got them kicked out of high school, they may just need more one-on-one attention or a unique approach to learning harder to find in the traditional school setting.
During their day at the museum, the students learned about a great sweep of Rim Country history, from the ancient settlers who left the ruins at Shoofly to the pioneer families of Payson.
“I feel pretty prideful about what the people did to work so hard to get here,” said Nikki Gibson.
An insightful comment from Gibson, since she and her classmates struggle every day with their education, just as the early settlers of Payson struggled to scratch a life from the Rim Country.
Pirch relishes the opportunity to cultivate these students.
“Mr. Pirch is a very passionate man. He’s really embraced this school and the students and has infused his enthusiasm for learning in the classroom. Everything with Mr. Pirch is a lesson,” said PEC Principal Peggy Miles.
Since Pirch’s interests vary widely, he ties concepts to each other to help make facts stick. He’ll hear about an issue or subject and relate it to someone or something in the community, said Miles.
When docent Sandy Carson at the Rim Country Museum went into the history of the sawmill in Payson, Pirch added a story to deepen to the students’ understanding.
“I’d like to add something for the kids,” he said.
He proceeded to tell the story about when the locals decided they did not care for the smell of the lumberyard. They wanted it shut down so they claimed the lumberyard did not do much for the economy of the town.
The mill employed 52 men at the time. These men were the sole breadwinners for their families.
To demonstrate their point, the yard started paying the men in silver dollars. Soon, silver dollars popped up all over town.
“They proved the mill made an impact,” said Pirch.
The students listen intently, absorbing with interest the lesson made with a clear visual.
Never one to neglect a relevant detail, Pirch excitedly told docent Carson that student Katlin Franklin’s family descended from some of the original pioneers of Payson.
“This young lady comes from a pioneer family,” said Pirch.
He suggested she can add to the tour with personal anecdotes. And she did. During the rest of the tour, Franklin often recalled many of the stories Carson recounted because her family had related them for years around the dinner table.
When the group gets to the Zane Grey exhibit in the museum, Carson asked if any of the children had read any of his books.
“My grandma threw (one of Zane Grey’s books) at me and said, ‘You have to read this,’” said Franklin.
“That sounds like your grandma,” said Pirch, who knows many people in Payson since he’s lived in the town since 1971.
Pirch worked for the Payson school district teaching social studies and coaching wrestling for years. He’s a modest man, who always puts the students first.
He monitored the students throughout the day, making sure they could handle the field trip. “I’m asking you guys, it’s your decision. We’ve been at this for quite awhile, would you like to go see the upstairs of the museum?” said Pirch.
Pirch’s enthusiasm must have soaked into the students because they all wanted to keep going. All through the day students showed interest, were well behaved, and asked intelligent questions. The nurturing and individual care they receive showed.
“I was so impressed with these kids, I’m not going to hesitate taking them other places,” said Pirch.
The students also impressed Carson.
“I was impressed how they listened ... That’s why I went on so long with my explanations.”