Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 27, 2004

Rural school days

Just as our high school and college students celebrate the end of school, many older "students" are looking forward to class reunions.

Riley Rural High School alumni will gather Saturday evening in Manhattan and Keats Rural High School alumni will get together in Keats on Sunday. Also, Mom will attend the Dwight (Morris County) Rural High School reunion Saturday in Manhattan.

There seems to be a resurgence of interest in rural schools. A Riley Countian article reported that a permanent marker commemorating the former Prairie Rock School District #26 was recently placed. It was the second such marker in Swede Creek Township, the first being placed a few years ago at Rose Hill School District #58.

I recently bought two copies of the book, Rural Schools of Riley County Kansas, by Jim Bogart, Roger Brannan, Charles and Doris Setterquist and Doug Tippin. I'm interested because I love history and I attended a small school in Marion County. I gave the other copy to Mom because she attended a one-room school - District #31, Marion Hill School, in Morris County - and she graduated from Dwight Rural High School in 1942. She also taught in schools where she was the only teacher for all grades.

More than 80 former rural school sites in Riley County are listed in the book. Many have photos and some have descriptions written by former students or teachers. Frequently schools were named after small settlements or features of the land. Some of those names such as Alert, Bala, Cleburne, Crooked Creek, Deep Creek, Fairview, Fancy Creek, Harmony, Keats, Lasita, Leonardville, Madison Creek, Peach Grove, Sunflower, Tabor Valley and Zeandale are still attached to local communities, roads or creeks.

Mom read the book and was immediately inspired to write her memories of her school days. Although not yet complete, her notes, titled "My Recollections of Marion Hill School," included some interesting details of typical days:

"I walked a mile or so to school. If it was too muddy or it snowed, my father took me in our buggy with one horse . . .

The first thing we did when school began was give the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, say the Lord's Prayer and sing a patriotic song. Each row of desks was nailed down with the smaller ones on the left, increasing in size for children who were older. The teacher sat at her desk on a raised platform. In front of her desk was a recitation bench where each class sat and recited their lessons.

We had reading, writing, arithmetic, social studies, spelling, history and geography, using maps that pulled down in front of the blackboard. Sometimes older kids were assigned to help the younger ones with flash cards for phonics and math. We would have contests in arithmetic on the blackboard.

Social studies taught in later years became very creative. I remember making a castle from round oatmeal boxes surrounded by a moat in the sand box. Sometimes other schools were invited for spelling bees or math contests. Reading was very important, but our library was very small . . .

We were very lucky as our one-room school had a cloakroom for the boys and one for the girls. In each was a flush toilet, which flushed into a big tank in the basement, which was emptied at least once a year. In the basement was a large coal bin and a large area for indoor play in inclement weather. Outside were swings, teeter-totters, a play area big enough for baseball and a shed for the ponies that some rode each day. There was a pump in front and a flag pole . . .

The furnace was stoked with coal from the big basement bin by the teacher each morning. We would sit around the furnace register to keep warm on the coldest days. We also started a 'hot lunch' program by bringing soup to put on the register to heat . . .

We had a 15-minute recess in the morning, one-half hour at noon and another 15-minute recess in the afternoon. We played a lot of games: Lucy Lost Her Supper, Drop the Handkerchief, Last Couple Out, Ring Around the Rosie, Red Rover, Fox and Geese, and Hide and Seek . . ."

Art recently took Katie past the Grandview School, east of the Fairview Church, and one of the schools pictured in the book. He said Katie looked the school over and told him it made her feel sad to see it boarded up. Then she noticed the teeter-totters almost swallowed up by the trees at the corner of the school yard.

A few days later, Art took me by and I felt the same as Katie had. With nothing to distract my thoughts but the wind in the trees, I could almost hear the kids reciting lessons or playing on the squeaky teeter-totters during recess.

At various reunions in the coming days, some of those now-grown students will also hear them again as their days in school are once more brought to life in their memories.

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