Searching for treasure

Students form metal detecting club, find artifacts around school

THOMPSONTOWN — Some Thompson-Delaware Elementary parents received a strange request on their child’s Christmas list this season — a metal detector.

Rather than playing ball or swinging on swings, a portion of Josh Wagner’s fourth- and fifth-graders spend their recess time searching for hidden treasures that have been lost under the soil of the school’s lawn.

Since Wagner formed a metal-detecting club last spring, his students have dug up anything from nails to silver coins and even an ax head.

It all started when Wagner received a metal detector as a gift from his wife last year.

At that time, he was doing a lesson on energy and circuits and decided to integrate it into a lesson as a visual aid.

“It lit a fire in the kids,” he said. “We went out and used it one day, then that turned into another day and another…” then before he knew it, a few students were going out every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during recess to find what relics were hidden around the school.

Since then, several students have requested metal detectors for a birthday or for Christmas.

“They are totally into this hobby,” Wagner said.

Students in younger grades have already shown an interest in what the fourth- and fifth-graders find.

“The younger kids are like vultures,” he said. “They don’t play at recess. They want to go out and watch. They can’t wait until they’re older and can go out with my (students).”

Wagner said integrating metal detectors into the classroom have been an incentive for students to go outside.

“It’s nice because I have some kids who hate to go out to recess. It seems like they don’t know how to play anymore. They’re not active,” Wagner said. “It’s really been an outdoor draw for them and gets them doing things with other people.”

Wagner keeps two boxes of items collected in his classroom “one is labeled trash and one is labeled treasure,” he said. “They’ve found oodles and oodles of junk and some treasures.”

Through metal detecting, students learned there was once a penny pitch outside the school because they found more than 100 pennies in a small area, but the class has also found buffalo nickels and old silver and Mercury dimes.

One day at recess, the class even found what they believe to be an old ax head that dates back to the 1800s.

Wagner said students learned through talking to staff that the school grounds were once old farmlands, which is where they believe the ax came from.

The class also found items like Colonial-style square nails, a locket with a picture still in it, a ring and a lock and key.

Digging up relics from the past has gotten students curious about where the items come from, Wagner said.

“They’re learning a lot about history,” he said.

The club was recently tasked with locating a time capsule was believed to be buried on school grounds. Not much is known about its whereabouts, but staff believe it was buried in the 1980s, Wagner said.

Wagner said about 20 students are involved with the club and that they usually go metal detecting in groups of four or five.

“We like that we can come out and find cool stuff,” said Nathan Carolus, 10, who said he started with the club at the beginning of the school year.

Carolus said he has a metal detector of his own at home and likes to use it in his free time.

Another student said he was excited when he found a ring during recess.

“I hope to someday find a gem, like a ruby — maybe a ring with some diamonds on it,” said Kegan Wood, 10. “I like how you can find anything, really.”

Wood said someday he would like to find an item and be able to give it back to its original owner.

“We found a lock and key once, which makes me wonder what else is out here,” he said.

Once the class has a collection of items, Wood said he would like to take them to a relic recoverist to have them appraised. “Then, if it is worth anything, maybe we could donate the money to the school,” he said.

Another student, Fabian Plesce, said he finds metal detecting to be “peaceful.”

“It’s nice to go out with your family because you never know what you will find,” said Plesce, who said while detecting with his family, he once found a bullet.

Wagner said students are also learning about proper metal detecting etiquette, like putting soil back in place after it is moved.

Wagner said he hopes sometime soon to be able to go to Haldeman Park to do metal detecting.

The club has already held two fundraisers to pay for supplies and is holding another online to purchase a new metal detector.

To donate, visit and search for Thompsontown-Delaware Elementary School. Donations to the club are tax deductible.