Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 27, 2009

"School days, school days, good old golden rule days"

Those words were written on the blackboard when we met in Rocky Ford School, an old stone one-room school, in September. A teacher's desk and a bench stood on the raised platform at the front of the room and an Ilinoy wood stove stood at the back. Built-in book cabinets lined the south wall. On entering, we had passed the cloak "rooms," located on either side of the front door. A portrait of George Washington hung on the wall, and rolled maps hung above the blackboard.

Eleven of us adult "students" squeezed into the hodge-podge of school desks - some old-fashioned wooden ones with ink wells, others a bit more modern. "Teacher" Arlene Hopkins stood on the platform and smiled as we entered. Arlene is the president of the Riley County Historical Society and, in our other lives, we are historical society board members. But sitting there, I certainly felt a bit like we had all gone back in time.

We were there to see what kind of shape the old building was in. Over the years, the roof had been heavily damaged by hail and wind. Baby vultures had taken up residence in one area of the roof over the summer, but had since "flown the coop." We agreed that a new roof would be needed as soon as possible to prevent further damage. That task - the first step in preserving the old building - was completed in early November.

The Rocky Ford School, located just off Tuttle Creek Boulevard on Barnes Road, was formerly known as District #70. The school district was established in 1885 and the building was constructed and classes began in 1886. In 1987, U.S.D. #383 gave the school to the historical society with the understanding that it would be used for historical purposes.

Since then, the school has been visited only occasionally, mainly by a few teachers showing children what a one-room school was like or adults who attended or taught in one themselves.

Last spring, I assigned my News and Feature Writing students at Kansas State University the task of writing articles about people who had attended or taught in Riley County and other nearby rural schools. Their stories would eventually appear in the Riley Countian, the Manhattan Mercury and the Manhattan Free Press. But before they began their assignment, I took them to Rocky Ford School so they could get a "feel" for what it was like to be in a rural school.

Common "themes" of their articles were how much the community was involved in the schools, how much fun students had at recess, how enjoyable the Christmas programs and end-of-the-year dinners were and how the teachers had to do everything at the schools - start the stove at the beginning of the school day, sweep the floors, teach all the grades, supervise the children at recess and play the piano.

This semester, one of my students documented the roofing project for his Digital News class, going so far as to climb onto the roof to get the roofers' view.

Historical society members now want to provide more opportunities for students to learn about those old schools. The next step will be to improve the interior of Rocky Ford - paint the walls, put curtains on the windows and add books and other items. The plan is to have an open house at the school next spring, and the hope is that teachers in the area will see that taking their students on a field trip to visit Rocky Ford School will be a good history lesson about those "good old golden rule days."

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