Original Students of the first Madera Method Project: The Minturn Chronicles
Bill Coate and his students from the first Madera Method Project, inaugurating the Madera Method Library - Photo Credits: Madera Tribune

Reliving Madera’s past

The Minturn Scholars come home

Thirty-four years after they made national news and drew a world-renowned author to Madera, Howard School’s Minturn Scholars met again Thursday to celebrate the latest chapter in the story of their uncommon achievement.

As honored guests of Madera Unified, School District, they gathered in the library of Madera South High School to help the district unveil the Madera Method Special Collections and Archive.

Coming from near and far (one even flying in from Texas) the former sixth graders — now in their mid-40s — emotionally embraced the occasion and each other as they relived the history/language arts project that promoted them into the education spotlight and planted the seed that grew into a movement known as the “Madera Method.”

With district officials and dignitaries looking on, the honored guests received a hearty greeting from MUSD Superintendent Todd Lile and were welcomed by Madera South guitarist Angel Maciel as he played “Home” for the audience. The welcome was complemented by a tantalizing array of appetizers prepared by the Stallion Caterers, teacher Marianne Rock’s Culinary CTE class.

The honored guests then took a trip through time via a video produced by Tim Riche, which told their story.

Those Howard School sixth graders became “Minturn Scholars” when they took a field trip in September 1984 with teacher Bill Coate, to three old, abandoned graves on the banks of the Chowchilla River. The tombstones marked the graves of the Minturn family. By January of 1985, they had researched and published a book on the lives of these early pioneers, and novelist Irving Stone, so intrigued by their work, came to meet with them. Stone named their project the “Madera Method,” and it stuck.

Over the next two decades, subsequent Madera classes followed the “Minturn” example and conducted their own research projects. The Madera Method of researching and writing was also exported to other states.

When Lile was appointed Superintendent of Madera Unified, he was determined to look back on the district’s past and reinforce those practices that had yielded positive results. The Madera Method was one of these. With the concurrence of the school board, Lile authorized the building of an archive, which would gather primary source documents and make them available to teachers for history projects of their own. The Madera Method Archive consists of a physical collection and an online collection.

As the Minturn Scholars were escorted into the Archive Thursday, they walked into a research laboratory, professional in every sense of the word. Three large display cases had been filled with artifacts from the Native period to World War Two, thanks to board MUSD Board Member Joetta Fleak and the Madera County Historical Society. Manuscript copies of diaries, letters, and other primary source documents occupied the display tables, and an eye-catching electric sign above the storage cabinets projected the name,

“Madera Method Special Collection and Archive.”

Before the celebration was over, MSHS Principal Oracio Rodriguez announced the Archive’s most recent acquisition, the World War Two diary of Dr. Dow Ransom Jr. The diarist was the son of early Madera physician Dow Ransom I. The diary was made available to the Archive by the Dow Harvey Ransom Family Trust and will be used in U.S. History classes at Madera South.

At the conclusion of the ceremony with the traditional ribbon-cutting by the Minturn Scholars, who then enjoyed the refreshments prepared by the Stallion Caterers, the audience and other guests renewed acquaintances with lots of hugs and tears.

Other special guests for the afternoon included Clay and Dusty Daulton of the Daulton Ranch and Al and Cecelia Sheeter of the Mordecai Ranch. Following the Minturns, the Daultons, and the Mordecais were the next subjects for Madera Method projects.

Especially revered by the Scholars Thursday was Audrey Pool, their project genealogist, who guided them in the search for the Minturn roots back to the 17th century.

Within a few hours after the ribbon-cutting, photos of the celebration appeared all over Facebook. Highlights of the event will also appear on Youtube.

Originally published in the Madera Tribune on June 5, 2019

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