Fremont students explore the values of the first Thanksgiving |

Fremont students explore the values of the first Thanksgiving

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Amy Oden's third grade class learns about the construction of tepees in Bonnie and Jon Springmeyer's tepee at Fremont Elementary School on Wednesday.

As almost 38 million Americans took to the skies to visit loved ones and relatives, and almost three times that many hit the road Wednesday – students at Fremont were reminded of the origins of Thanksgiving Day with a more low-tech and less-harried approach.

As the smell of a campfire wafted through the halls of the school Wednesday, one classroom at a time wandered through the garden area and into a 30-foot tepee, put temporarily on display by third grade teacher Bonnie Springmeyer and her husband, John.

The couple, who purchased the “authentic” dwelling from a Bend, Ore.-based tepee builder a decade ago, said their interest in American Indian heritage coincides with family history.

“My ancestors were ranchers here in the Carson Valley,” John Springmeyer said. “I grew up with the Washoe Indians working on ranches – we feel a lot of respect for the Native American viewpoint. It’s something we try to incorporate into our lives. Something we’re proud to share.”

Tromping through the school’s garden, mostly dormant now for the winter, students slipped and slid on the frost-covered ground en route to the tepee’s entrance, a 3-foot hole, covered by a decorated canvas flap.

The students filed into the space, which – as if the structure held up by a dozen 40-foot poles was something out of fiction – seemed to open up to a grand room, once inside.

“It’s bigger in here than I thought,” said Misael Veramontes, 8, who drew a picture of the tepee and its symbols. “I like it – I think I could probably live in here. Even during the winter.”

Once embraced by the tepee’s warmth, some 20 third grade students cozied around the fire, drew on multi-colored Plexiglas clipboards and watched smoke from the flames rise as imaginations ran amok.

“There were many Indians here,” said Selina Lizarraga, 9. “You look around and there are people of all cultures who make up who we are.”

The tepee trip was part of a two-week examination of the lives of indigenous Americans, Fremont principal Mark VanVoorst said.

“The teachers built and designed a curriculum, it’s a multi-week event,” he said. “But we thought it a good idea to time with the fall and Thanksgiving.”

Diana Manguzman, 8, said a lot of the symbols associated with the first celebration of Thanksgiving – fulfillment of basic needs like having food, shelter and warmth – are things people still can be thankful for today.

“The (Indians) used symbols to tell stories,” she said. “They gave thanks for what they had. It’s different now, but we can still do the same.”