“Education is paramount to the Presidio’s purpose,” said Newton M. Warzecha, longtime director of the National Historic Landmark. “The fortress marks the birthplace of Texas’ first Declaration of Independence as well as the bloodiest chapter of the Revolution – the Goliad Massacre of 1836.
“Realizing that school field trips to the Presidio had dipped 55 percent since 2005, we have launched a generous and engaging program to help students appreciate the profuse Spanish, Mexican and Texas history here at the Presidio and in Goliad,” Warzecha explained.
“What better time to renew our efforts,” he added. “October marks the beginning of the 175th year of Texas independence, with many events around the state and along the vibrant Texas Independence Trail.
Through a generous grant from the Mary Hobbs Griffith Foundation, the 289-year-old fort-museum-chapel complex is offering free admission in March, April and May of 2011 to 10,000 Texas students in 4th- and 7th-grade social studies. Funds also will be provided to help underwrite transportation costs.
The program is on a first-come, first-serve basis, and advance reservations must be made. Transportation grants to the schools are based on the miles traveled, typically covering about one-half of the cost up to a maximum of $5 per student. More than 1,500 students are signed up.
School groups also will visit the mission and museum in nearby Goliad State Park. The park encompasses the restored Mission Espíritu Santo, an icon of the Spanish Colonial Era; the birthplace of Mexican Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza, the hero of the Cinco de Mayo battle at Puebla that freed Mexico from French forces; and the 1750s Mission Rosario State Historic Site.
About 50 educators, mostly from South Texas, were expected for the day-long workshop, according to Janet Dickerson, a social studies consultant with the Texas Education Service Center, ESC Region 2, Corpus Christi. Regions 2 and 3 helped promote and coordinate the event.
The day began with a 20-minute talk on the Presidio’s history by staff member Dolores Hargrove, followed by a tour of the hilltop bastion, which is on U.S. Hwy. 183 (77A).
The teachers reconvened in the charming Our Lady of Loreto Chapel where Warzecha explained the program’s goals and parameters. David Vickers, an award-winning seventh-grade social studies teacher in Beeville, then reviewed the lesson plan he has developed for the teachers to use in conjunction with their visits to Goliad.
Costumed re-enactors Ricardo Villarreal and Bobby Rendon performed the same show-and-tell demonstrations that visiting students will experience next spring. Lunch was enjoyed at the Blue Quail Restaurant on Goliad’s historic downtown square. The teachers then toured the State Park Museum and Mission, grounds and gift shop.
“The Presidio is a sacred pantheon of Texas, Mexican, Spanish and Catholic history,” Warzecha emphasized. “It is believed to be the only totally intact presidio on what was once the Northern Frontier of New Spain.
“And just beyond the walls, 342 Texians were ‘executed’ in March 1836, under orders from Mexican Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna,” he noted. “Not just school kids, but every citizen of this state should know about and appreciate the supreme sacrifices that led to the Republic of Texas and ultimately, statehood.”