Good old school days

We all hear so much talk lately by politicians on what they would do to failing school systems, and the remedies that they recommend. Hearing all this, I can’t help but recall my own early school upbringing.

In September 1947, I entered the world of education as a first-grader at a one-room school house in a tiny hamlet called Bridgeburg in Armstrong County, East Franklin Township in Western Pennsylvania. We never even heard of kindergarten back then. That basic learning was taught by your parents. Formal education started in the first grade.

Our one-room schoolhouse included eight grades. My first-grade class had just four students, including myself. There were 40 some students in the whole school. Yes, I walked to school, being our home was just a few minutes away. My brother was in the third grade. The teacher was Mrs. Mabel Henry, who was big, strong and very intelligent, but also very mean.

The school itself stood along the river road for the Allegheny River and looked quite prominent with its wooden steeple and white paint on the wood siding. Underneath the steeple was a bell tower that housed a large bell that was used for starting classes, recesses, lunchtime and dismissal. A large rope was pulled to make the bell toll, which could be heard throughout the village. I spent my first six-and-a-half-years there, until consolidation came; then we were bused to a school over 10 miles away.

The experiences attained in a one-room schoolhouse are something that you never forget. There was no running water, so the older boys in the eighth grade would take turns carrying water from the closest neighbor, and then pour it into a crock that had a spigot. You brought your own drinking cup.

There were no restrooms as we know them today, only outhouses. There was one for the girls and one for the boys. When nature called, you just raised your hand indicating two fingers, which was the sign that you had to go.

Heat in the winter was provided by a giant pot belly stove, with coal used for fuel. One of the older boys was assigned as janitor or monitor to come in early to start the fire in the stove. Sometimes an old stray dog would be welcomed to lay by the fire to keep warm. Each desk had an ink well in the right-hand upper corner. In writing class, we were given a small wooden handle, in which we inserted a metal writing pen that we dipped into the ink well in order to write. It was sometimes tempting if a girl sat in front of you that had pigtails to dip them into your inkwell. That was just terrible.

There were two cloak rooms for your coat and hats — one for girls and one for boys.

At 8 a.m. devotions were held, in which the bible was read, followed by the Lord’s Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. It was arithmetic, not math, in those days. It was always the first class. Each class was called to the blackboard and was given addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems.

The alphabet was printed above the blackboard. Higher up was a portrait of George Washington. When recess arrived, the boys went outside when weather prevailed to play many forms of baseball. The girls played jump rope or remained inside pounding on the piano to the strains of “Heart and Soul.” During winter months, snowball fights were common until the teacher was hit, unintentionally of course.

For punishment, the rod or paddle was never spared. Back in those days, the parents supported that type of punishment. Lunch was a half hour and I usually walked home for my lunch.

As you advanced in grades, English class became harder, as you learned to diagram sentences and got to know adjectives, nouns, pronouns and verbs a lot better. History and geography came into play more so than in today’s educational process. What a loss. Picnics were always cool as all the neighborhood would pitch in to bring in all their tasty recipes and treats.

Even in those days there were bullies who seemed delighted in making it miserable for others. By fifth grade, we received a new teacher that was not mean and I was able to learn much better. I felt much better.

I am so glad to have experienced the one-room schoolhouse. Even though there were some hardships, it was a great time in my life.