I began first grade in 1961 in a small rural school in Arkansas. It was one of a few one room school houses still inexistence.
My Aunt Shirley taught grades 1-5 in that little rock school. I’ve often marveled at how she did it and how tired she must have been at the end of the day from running around the room giving instructions and assignments to each age group. She would give us work sheets or reading assignments to complete, and then move on to the next grade and on around the room until she’d worked with us all. If we finished our work before she got back around to our grade, we were to sit quietly. First graders were allowed to sit in the floor and play jacks or color or draw. The only stipulation was we had to be quiet. There were three of us, all girls, and we sometimes had to be reminded to whisper.
The main room was a good sized room, heated by a large wood stove. There was an indoor bathroom, but I don’t ever remember using it. There were also “his” and “hers” out houses at the back of the playground. A milk man brought white and chocolate milk in glass bottles with paper tabs on top to hold the milk inside. There was no lunchroom, so everyone brought their lunch. In the winter, Mama sometimes gave me a small jar of soup to sit on top of the wood stove all morning. By lunch it was warmed up and ready to eat.
There was another room in the building that served as a storage room most of the time, but there was plenty of room to play in there if it was raining at recess. The playground had swings and we had a box full of jump ropes and balls.
The road in drier times.
Once it rained so much, Daddy had to take me to school on the tractor because the bus couldn’t get down the muddy gravel roads. I still remember what I was wearing that day: a white blouse with a peter pan collar and puffed sleeves, a mint green and white checked full gathered skirt with wide waist band and straps that crisscrossed in the back and tied in a wide sash. The skirt had a built in petticoat and I wore it with white socks and brown and white saddle oxford shoes. The skirt was one of my favorites, though I had two weeks’ worth of new dresses when I started school that year. Little girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school at that time. I very carefully sat on the tractor fender, tucking my skirt and sash underneath me to keep the mud off them. It was about a mile to the school. The road was filled with rocks and soupy mud. By the time I got to school, I had two small splatters of mud on me; one on my sock and one on my skirt. I can tell you that it ruined my day. I hated getting dirty and still do to this day.
In spite of having students who hadn't been to kindergarten and having to share her time with four other grades, Aunt Shirley gave me a strong educational base. We started with the Dick and Jane readers. I read them just to look at the wonderful pictures. My love of art was already developed and inside the covers of those little readers were beautifully drawn pictures of my new friends, Dick, Jane, Sally, Spot, and Puff.
I only went to the rock school house for one year. The following year, our rural community school was consolidated with a larger town. In first grade at the one room school, there were only three students, but second grade in the town school, had four classrooms full of second graders and we had a cafeteria that made hot lunches in the building and the playground had not only a swing set, but teeter totter, monkey bars, merry go round, and an enormous fenced yard.
Aunt Shirley moved to the town school too, but I didn’t have her as a teacher again. I believe there was some sort of rule that you didn’t teach relatives, which was poppy cock because she had been a wonderful first grade teacher to me and each and every other student that she taught. Within that little one room school house of approximately twenty three students in the 1961-62 school year were students who became teachers, doctors, nurses, and airline pilots, among other things.
Looking back at the experience, I know there aren’t many people my age that went to a one room school. It’s something I’m grateful to have lived through – a little slice of history that I’ll never forget.