Thursday, April 11, 2013

One Room Schoolhouse

Some of you have commented on the mention in my profile about attending a one room schoolhouse and asked to hear more.  I often wonder with the tremendous number of families returning to homeschooling if the one room schoolhouse will make a comeback too - I think it should.
The shed is an old well house.  The Maypole and
half-buried tractor tire have been there as long as I can remember.
This little school is called Strange School.  While the brick school was built in 1879, the first school on this site dates back to 1844.  It is its own school district of about 4 miles square.  Residents in the area take great pride in it as a community fixture.  While several one room schools are found in the area, this is the only one still operating and the only one that has operated continuously since its beginning.  You can find some interesting historical facts and photos from the brick school's early history here.  The flag pole is an important part of every day with a different student assigned each week to be in charge of raising the flag each morning and taking it down and folding it to store inside each night.  In this Christian farming community, the American flag and state flag hang in the front of the classroom and the Pledge of Allegiance is said each morning - including "Under God"!

The school typically has around 20 students at a time (give or take) and in more modern times tends to teach kindergarten through fifth grade.  While it used to teach students of all ages, as larger public schools in the area became the norm, most parents elected to transfer their students to the public schools after eight grade, and then eventually more and more transferred to "town school" after fifth grade to be able to more easily make the social transition.  While students who attend this school tend to be ahead of their peers academically, the social stigmas and assumptions made could be difficult for some.
The swing set is always popular and many former students
come back to visit in the summer and sit on them and reminisce.  
The environment in a one room schoolhouse is similar to any other classroom in some ways but unique in many others.  The teacher I had just retired a couple of years ago after teaching there for 34 years.  Students are all business and have daily schedules that are followed.  Students have regular homework and testing the same as any other school.  A blackboard, or as they have begun to upgrade, a whiteboard display a chart with each grade, each study topic, and the book work they are to begin.  Students learn to be self-starters in this way.  As the students begin their own work, each grade is called to a "class" table at the front of the room one at a time.  Pull down maps and a chalkboard are near this table and are used for active discussion on the study topic with the teacher.  Once this grade has worked through their topic with the teacher, the students return to their desks to work on their regular assignments and the next grade is called to the class table for its group work.

Topics that are not grade specific such as art, music, and usually a regular reading corner time (where the teacher or an older student reads out loud) are done by the entire school together.  This provides a chance for students of all ages to interact and encourages sharing, understanding, helpfulness and a general sense of community.  

Also, while there is often a teacher's aide or parent helper available most days (some former students even enjoy returning to help occasionally), when students have questions on their at-desk work while the teacher is busy at the class table, older students and students who have finished their at-desk work may help those who raise their hand with questions.  This encourages teaching skills in older students, reinforces the past skilled they have learned, and gives them pride that they have sufficiently learned a topic and are able to teach it to another.  It also often can help bonding between siblings of different ages who are able to rely on each other for help.  The teacher is able to hear the students helping each other and is able to step in if the discussion is not appropriate or the direction being given is incorrect.
The seasonal student artwork on the windows is a tradition
everyone in the area loves to drive past to see.
Students who complete assignments at a faster pace never run out of things to do.  They are always offered an option of helping themselves to library books to read to fill the time, choosing an extra credit project, making art for the windows, or some older students may help grade papers of much younger students (that was one of my favorites).  In the weeks leading up to special holidays, students with extra time help with preparation for events like Mother's Tea and the Christmas Play.

The students also always hear a portion of the oral lesson taking place at the front of the room class table no matter how hard they are concentrating.  This allows students in lower grades to be introduced to portions of topics that will later seem already somewhat familiar to them.  It also allows students in older grades to reinforce their learning and perhaps refresh them on things they have forgotten or missed the first time around.  Students in this setting seem to test higher and many have skipped a grade or tested in to advanced placement classes when transferring to other schools. Most students also build skills in being able to tune out distractions because they have learned early on to tune out most of the oral lesson to work on their at-desk work.
Some of the playground has been there since before I was a student
and other stuff has been replaced with more modern equipment.
This used to be an old plain metal monkey bars and metal slide.
Students here have an outdoor recess at least once every morning, at lunch time and in the afternoon.  When I was there, it was a full hour lunch to eat and play and 15 minute recesses.  This was every day unless it was pouring buckets or below zero - you learned how to stay out of the wind and dress appropriately for the season!  If the teacher decided everyone was being too much of a handful in the classroom everyone was booted out for one more recess - when we came back in all patience on both sides was restored and the kids were usually much more cooperative.  
This amazing tree has been estimated at over 300 years old.
If the weather was really nice the lesson might turn into an outdoor one.  We might go park out under this great- granddaddy oak tree for reading time.  Or we might end up on a scavenger hunt for science - nothing like going out and turning over a rock and putting down some leftover PBJ crumbs to give an up-close learning experience on how ants worked together to carry food many times their size to the nest and shove it down a tiny hole...



While many things have stayed the same at this community fixture, there are lots of signs of the changes over time.  These windows were filled in long before I started attending and one was replaced with a door.
One of the two original outhouses still stands.  Although it has been used as a maintenance shed for a long time it still has the original wood board seat.
This little building was added when my youngest brother and cousin attended about 10 years ago to serve as a "technology" building to house the school's computers.  It has a small basement that also provides better storage for records than the cellar under the original school.  The community has worked hard to ensure its students have access to advanced learning tools to be competitive with students in other districts.

More to come in the future when I can get there on a day someone can let me in!  :)

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