GOLIAD – Xavier Medrano, 10, smiled as he peered through a pair of binocular lenses.

“I love these binoculars,” the fourth-grader exclaimed. He spoke with the lenses pressed to his cold face. “I can see so close with these things.”

Xavier and his fourth-grade peers from Chandler Elementary School scampered around the Mission Espíritu Santo tower at Goliad State Park and Historic Site on a class field trip Friday.

The mission was home to one of the largest ranching operations in Texas during the 18th century. At the Spanish Colonial Church site, there are exhibits about the history and daily life of missionaries. Texas Parks and Wildlife maintain and operate the mission on the state park grounds.

Chandler Elementary was one of about 18 schools to visit the mission Friday to venture through stations that brought history to life before them.

The children got the first look at some of the attractions that were featured during Rio! Rio! on Saturday. The annual fall event at the state park features demonstrators and reenactors who show off their traditional skills.

Area students got a preview of demonstrations such as blacksmithing, candle making, spinning and weaving. They also heard from a Spanish colonial friar and learned about native Texas animals.

Xavier’s favorite station was with the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge representative Zach Piotrowski explained how to use binoculars to identify birds.

“You want to make sure what we’re looking at is not blurry. Look at that bird,” he said as he motioned to a photo several yards away. “If it’s not blurry, that’s great. If it is, you can adjust your binoculars.”

With his colorful hood covering his head, Xavier adjusted the binoculars and identified the birds with his peers.

“Woah,” one student shouted as the image became clear.

They flipped through bird guides and studied the pages to find the right species.

Xavier’s mother, Melissa Crabbe, watched him become engrossed at every station they encountered.

She said Xavier is on the autism spectrum and he sometimes has a hard time focusing. That wasn’t the case at Goliad State Park.

“He’s really engaged,” Crabbe said.

As his group of seven moved about, his mother would call Xavier to make sure he didn’t fall behind. He became entranced with the history around him and didn’t realize when his group was leaving.

“It’s fun to see things they studied in class,” Crabbe said. “They remember it better when they experience it.”

About 80 Chandler Elementary fourth-graders, including Terra Greer, 10, braved the 50-degree weather.

“I can’t feel my feet,” said Terra. Her hands were shoved in her pockets and the strings of her pink and black beanie flapped in the wind just outside her blue hoodie.

“I’m just glad it’s not raining,” she added.

Regardless of the cold, she said she was having fun and was excited to see more of the park.

Her group of five marched through the mission and went to their first station, where they watched Jeremy Martin make fried bread.

Martin explained how he mixed flour, baking powder and salt together to make dough. He put clumps of dough into a vast black cast-iron skillet over an open flame.

The kids leaned over the pot to watch the dough crackle in the hot oil.

“This was a way of quickly making bread,” Martin said. He told the kids the bread could be eaten with whatever they like, but he preferred his with honey.

“Sounds interesting,” said Terra, delighted with the concept of 15-minute bread.

Katie Kelly, Chandler Elementary social studies teacher, watched the group of five and explained history topics to them as they moved about the mission.

She said it was great that the kids were out of the classroom and learning history firsthand.

“As we pulled up, I wish you could have seen their faces,” she said, explaining that their faces lit up at the sight of the mission, which they had only seen on paper before.

Going to Goliad State Park is one of the best field trips the kids take throughout the year. It broadens their understanding of local Texas history, Kelly explained.

“History just comes alive,” she said. “I get excited. We’re jumping into the textbook.”

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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