Students have an enthralling day of lessons at Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse

By Drew Esnard

Sharla Branquinho’s third-graders at Los Olivos School were treated to a day of living history at
the nearly 150-year old Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse on Rancho La Purisima in November.

Dressed in bonnets and collars, the students arrived at Rancho La Purisima’s entry gate in a
modern-day yellow school bus, but when they stepped out they entered a pre-industrialized world.

Paul McEnroe greeted the children at the gate on horseback and escorted them up the hill toward
the school and their teacher for the day, his wife Tina McEnroe. Mrs. McEnroe, as the students called her,
then led the students in the Pledge of Allegiance under the American flag. Afterwards, the students surprised her with an animated rendition of ಯYou’re A Grand Old Flag.ರ  

Kathi Carlson and Sue Field, both active members of the Santa Barbara County CattleWomen
Association, were on site with a rescued Holstein cow, Bessie, and two rescued orphan calves. Carlson
explained to the students the daily care rituals of cattle and how they served as a vital life-giving element to families in the late 19th century.

Back at the schoolhouse, McEnroe presented lessons in true period fashion, having the students line up to compete in a spelling bee, solve math equations on individual slate chalk boards, and read from 100-year-old McGuffey reading books. The children got a kick out of McEnroe’s demonstrations of the iconic “dunce cap” and hickory stick, items once used to discipline unruly children.

“The kids have so much fun and really enjoyed the lifestyle of the day with getting to dress up and having old-fashioned lunches,” Branquinho said. “It’s neat to be able to immerse them in a whole living experience where they learn so much more about the time period than they would just by reading about it.”
The one-room Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse was originally established in Santa Maria and served as a school, non-denominational church, and community center from 1869 to 1936. It fell into disrepair after
its closure, but McEnroe saw its potential and was able to move it and restore it to its former glory.

The schoolhouse now sits on the McEnroes’ property and has been restored to look like a
schoolhouse from the 1890s. After traveling the world looking at old schoolhouses, McEnroe spent about a year and a half furnishing the building with school materials from the period.  

“Everything in here is authentic,” she said, “from the alphabet strips to the kerosene lantern to the clock that we found in Santa Maria that at one point had hung on these walls.”
Throughout the year, classes from all over the valley come to the Pleasant Valley Schoolhouse to
learn about what it was like to be a student in the 1890s.