I went to a one room school from 1st through 8th grade. I’m not quite as ancient as this might imply. I grew up in a behind-the-times farming community in Kansas. It was not an affluent area, not dirt-poor, but not rich enough to feel the pressure to be modern.
This is not a nostalgic look at the “good old days”, nor is it a sad story of a difficult childhood. I hope it is a clear-eyed remembrance of my past and the things that shaped me.
I was at my very first school only a few weeks before we moved. Then I went to Avondale for the rest of four grades. At Avondale my teacher was Miss Simmons. She was a lovely young woman and she was sweet to me. I loved her.
Miss Simmons and that's me on the teeter-totter.
Beyond having support from Miss Simmons, I was a target, an outcast. It was probably due to some combination of factors. In this homogeneous community, any difference was not tolerated. My father was a farm worker and we didn’t own a farm until I’d graduated from high school. He was outsider – from Missouri. Though my mother’s roots went back to the settlement of the county, before Kansas became a state, this didn’t help because she was not social at all. We didn’t belong to a church; we didn’t belong to any organization; we didn’t belong - period. I was a shy only child and to put the cherry on top, I was smart.
This was difficult, but not really all that devastating. I lived all up in my head in many ways. My imagination and creativity filled me. Though I was picked on, in spite of being shy, I was scrappy and didn’t take crap from anybody. This may be an incomplete memory, but I don’t remember anyone making me cry. My reaction was more a big steamy anger.
The entire Avondale school – I’m in the front with long dark hair and the dress over pants (I wasn’t happy about that).The educational theory before I went to school, or at least my mother’s interpretation of it, was that children shouldn’t learn to read before going to school. I desperately wanted to read, but her prohibition of it was so strong that I didn’t even try to learn on my own. Once I started school and was allowed to learn, it was like a fire igniting. The world of words opened to me. Within weeks I was reading several grades ahead. My mother had skipped a couple of grades, but in my time, they weren’t having children skip grades. So, I was stuck in my class with two classmates who were “dumb” boys.
Now the good thing about having eight grades in one room with one teacher is that it was possible to do a lot of self-directed education. Each class would be called to the front of the room for lessons, but the rest of the time you were on your own. This has put me in good stead my whole life. Of course, there is a downside. To this day, I have gaps in knowledge in areas that didn’t spark my interest.
It couldn’t have been much of an education with the teacher spread so thinly. The basics - reading, writing and arithmetic was mostly the extent of it. There was no library, but luckily my folks would take me to the library at the county seat and I would load up on books.
Miss Simmons got married after my 1st grade year and came back and taught one more year. Then it was Mrs. McNiece, who absolutely hated me – I don’t know why. In the 3rd grade, my folks took me out of school to go to Colorado for my Dad to go hunting. Mrs. McNiece was so angry about this that she expected me to catch up on arithmetic work in a few days. I stayed up very late for about a week to do it. That left me with an aversion to math for a long time and I’m good at it.
4th grade, it was Mrs. Wade, who has left little impression on my memory, and then we moved again. 5th grade through 8th was at Sugar Loaf school. My teacher was Mrs. Meyers. She was stern and I don’t remember her ever smiling, but she was fair to us. My favorite memory of her is that she read the entire Little House on the Prairie series to us.
During this period, I got some other subjects – history and civics among them. The books for these subjects were so deadly dull that it was years before I learned that there was life in them if presented differently. I lucked out on science with a newly published textbook with pictures and I loved it. There really wouldn’t have been time to have gone deeply into anything, but somehow when we took state tests, I would rate in the upper percentiles, especially in science.
All the girls at Sugar Loaf – probably my 6th grade. I'm second from the right. Motley looking crew, weren’t we?
Other things I remember include the programs we would put on for Christmas and other occasions. This were big events in the community. The children would do songs, skits and do “pieces” (recite poems). In the early grades before my spirit was dampened, if not crushed, I would gladly and dramatically get up to perform my “piece”.
Recesses were usually unstructured but sometimes we played games – Hide and Seek, Red Rover, Geese in the Snow (when there was snow enough to create a big wheel with spokes shape). Occasionally, we’d run races, have high and broad jumping. At Avondale, I think the only play equipment was the teeter-totter; Sugar Loaf also had swings and a jungle-gym.
There were tests given before we graduated from grade school. This included an essay – I remember mine, it was embarrassingly naïve, but heartfelt. My test score was the highest in the county; I was pretty thrilled, but really, how much competition was there?
Then it was on to being bused to town for high school. It was called ____ Rural High School and would retain Rural as part of the name for quite a few more years. The county’s one room schools were only to exist a few more years before all the children were bused to town.
Going to one room schools left me with another thing to reinforce the self-reliance that I also learned at home and some beliefs about myself that took many years to overcome (if in fact I have completely). I was part of the end of an era.
All that remains of Avondale.
[Note – Thanks to Roy Jimenez for the suggestion to write about my one room school experience.]