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Field trip to the Gateway Arch helps Meramec fourth graders discover Lewis and Clark

Park Ranger Chris Anibal showed fourth grade students from Meramec Elementary a bison horn spoon during their field trip Friday to the Gateway Arch.
Britny Cordera
St. Louis Public Radio
Park Ranger Chris Anibal shows Meramec Elementary fourth graders a bison horn spoon on Jan. 13 during a field trip to the Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis.

Fourth grade students from Meramec Elementary in St. Louis are learning about Lewis and Clark this month — and the Gateway Arch is a big part of their lessons.

In 2018, Gateway Arch National Park renovated its entryway and museum. The exhibits contain more information and are much more interactive than they used to be, said park ranger Pam Sanfillippo, chief of museum services and interpretation.

“The exhibits now tell multiple perspectives. They talk about others (in the Corps of Discovery) who went on the expedition with Lewis and Clark,” she said. “This renovation helps students see, rather than a kind of a narrow history, a much broader story of our nation's past.”

On Friday, park ranger Chris Anibal led Patti Pyatt’s class on a short tour through the museum and 250 years of St. Louis history. Pyatt said the visit was a great way for her students to hold on to information about Lewis and Clark and the region’s role in westward expansion.

Anibal, who has worked for the National Park Service for more than two decades, said helping students is his favorite part of the job.

“Even more so than adults, I think kids are always the most eager to learn,” he said. “They’re like sponges and just ready to learn. And I'm ready to help them.”

As Anibal passed around replicas of clothes members of the Corps of Discovery would have worn during the Lewis and Clark expedition, students marveled at the buckskin shirt and black leather boots.

Anibal also told students about York, the first Black man to cross the continent as an enslaved person to Clark, and Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who helped the expedition find food, use animal skins to make clothes and establish relationships with Native American tribes.

The fourth graders even toured a floor map as they traced the expedition’s footsteps on their journey west.

“I learned more about Lewis and Clark, what they did, and how they traveled,” said Meramec fourth grader Isaiah Labriardo.

His classmate Tinyah White was astonished that the Corps of Discovery used animal skin for clothes. “I had a great time!” she said.

Pyatt said the field trip helped add context to lessons she is teaching her students.

“When they saw St. Louis back 200 years ago, what it looked like, their eyes just lit up,” she said. “They don't realize how much the city’s changed.”

Britny Cordera is a poet and journalist based in St. Louis and is currently serving as a newsroom intern at St. Louis Public Radio.