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A journey to the past

A group of first-graders learn about secret languages - and dinosaurs talk to them.

By PAULETTE LASH RITCHIE
Published November 3, 2005


INVERNESS - Inverness Primary School first-graders stood at the steps of the Historic Courthouse and listened to educational coordinator Laurie Diestler. They were there to see the Navajo code talkers display at the courthouse museum. The display complemented their recent social studies lessons.

Before the children entered the building, Diestler advised them to use their indoor voices. Then she answered questions. One child wanted to know, "Is this where bad people go?"

"No," Diestler said. That's the new courthouse, which is down the street. Another student assured her that he was good to go into this building. "Well, I'm a nice kid," he said.

Once inside the children were fascinated by the dinosaur wall, a display that features talking Tyrannosaurus rex and pterodactyl figures. A limited poll taken later in the afternoon indicated this was possibly the biggest hit of the visit.

In another gallery, the students sorted oranges. They saw an old Coke machine and Citrus County photographs of long ago.

Later they made their way to their main destination: the code gallery, where photos of Navajo Indians who participated in World War II hung across the walls. The students had been studying how people communicated in earlier times, from cave paintings to the Pony Express to rotary telephones.

The Navajos, first-grade teacher Sandra Cross said, "had a language that was never written down." Someone came up with the idea to use the language to confuse the enemy. Navajo Indians communicated over radios and the Japanese could never figure out what they were saying.

Upstairs in the old courtroom, the children had an opportunity to decorate pictures with glue and colored gelatin powder. They chose from drawings of settlers, teepees, suns, lizards, birds and pilgrim hats.

Shakeisha Ramos, 7, chose a bird and did it in blue, green, red and yellow. Kirsten Alcordo, 6, colored a teepee.

Spencer Travis, 6, who chose a lizard, had a lot to say about his visit to the courthouse. He liked "the prehistoric exhibit where there was T-rex and pterodactyl," he said. "They're talking when you press the button. I also like the warthog armadillo. It's a warthog that has the shell of an armadillo."

After a visit to the courthouse basement, the children returned to the present time and walked back to school under the cool October mid-afternoon sun.