A camel, a horse and a Gila monster were guest instructors Thursday at Bordewich-Bray Elementary School, teaching students about Nevada's history and its relevance in today's world.
"This is one of the most impressive programs that I'm aware of," State Archivist Guy Rocha, who helped coordinate the Nevada Day celebration. "These kids are having a wonderful experience, arguably a lifetime experience. I don't know of anything comparable."
In honor of Nevada's admission into union on Oct. 31, 1864, the staff at Bordewich-Bray transforms the school one day each year into a hands-on exhibit of the state's heritage.
This year, 18 stations were set up, some delving into Nevada's history - like panning for gold and wagon rides - while others showcased its cultures, with displays of traditional Hispanic dances, the Chinese influence and American Indian song and dance.
Jacki Bennet, of Washoe and Paiute descent, sang songs of thanksgiving, of praise to Mother Earth and of supplication for protection.
She told students that songs can be passed between family and friends or can come in the form of a dream or other form of inspiration.
"We try to remember who we learned the song from as a way of honoring them," she said.
Sarah Christl, 10, asked Bennet how many American Indian songs there were.
"She said she can't count them," Christl reported to her friends. "She said there were as many as stars in the sky."
Gary Jackson brought his camel, Atara. Camels were once used to transport materials to the mines on the Comstock. Jackson now raises them in Stagecoach, racing them at the annual Virginia City International Camel Races.
He debunked common camel misconceptions. For example, they don't spit; they projectile vomit their cud. And they don't store water in their humps; they store food.
"Just like this is where I store my food," Jackson said, motioning to his belly.
The Gila monster stores energy in its tail, Chris Gienger of the University of Nevada, Reno's biology department told the students.
He had one of the venomous rare lizards indigenous to Southern Nevada on hand to show students. He also had the state reptile, the desert tortoise, and a rubber snake on display, and explained their roles in the desert habitat.
"I want to be a reptilianist when I grow up," said Austin Bortch, 9. "I've wanted to be one since I first touched a reptile when I was 5. So today was a real treat for me."
Although not indigenous to Nevada, the horse has played a significant role in its history and development. Stan Zuber, of the Bureau of Land Management, brought Koal, a feral horse that has been trained to be a patrol horse.
Principal Sue Keema carried on the Nevada Day celebration when she assumed the role six years ago. Although it takes months to organize, she said the outcome is worth the work.
"To me, this supports student achievement," she said. "They are going to remember what they learned today because they were able to touch it, see it, hear it, speak it. Getting their hands dirty and jumping in with both feet, they experience the folklore."
Teri Vance is features editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at email@example.com or at 881-1272.