Memories of Attending a Country School – by Gail’s daughter, Virginia Allain
I attended a two-room school for three years. That sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but Kansas in the 1950s and early 1960s hadn’t yet consolidated the rural schools. West Branch School, east of El Dorado, Kansas was a square brick building with a spacious basement and on the main floor, the two classrooms.
West Branch School – rural Butler County, Kansas
Mrs. West taught the first four grades, where my younger sisters, Cindy and Karen attended. I was in the upper grades, taught by Mrs. Mildred Waltman. While I was in 6th grade, my sister Susan was in the 7th grade, and my brother, Owen was in 8th grade, all in the same room. Mrs. Waltman taught all three grades plus the 5th graders.
Those four grades shared one good-sized room. The blackboard covered one wall with some large maps on a roller above it. Classes took turns being instructed at the sturdy table placed in front of the blackboard. The teacher divided her time four ways, switching from math to English to geography and from one grade level to another.
When it wasn’t our grade’s turn at the front of the room, we worked at our desks on assigned work. If we finished our assignment, we could always listen in on the class being taught at the table or we could choose a book to read. The bookshelves ran all across the longest wall under the windows. Being an avid reader, I’d hasten to finish my class work so I’d have time to read.
At the end of the school year reading awards were given. Gold embossed seals, each representing five books read, almost completely covered the inside of my reading certificate in its royal blue fake-velvet cover.
It’s hard to imagine the workload for a teacher handling four grades at once, but Mrs. Waltman rose to the challenge. Each grade consisted of only two to four students, so essentially she customized the curriculum and we received individualized attention.
When West Branch students graduated from 8th grade, they took the bus into El Dorado Junior High to merge in with 400 students for 9th grade. The students from the country schools took placement tests and were assigned to math and English classes based on the results. I noticed that most of us ended up in the honors level classes.
The social adjustment of going from a small school to one so large was tough. Most of the town kids had attended grade schools together and had a two-year head start on Junior High when we arrived. The cliques and friendships formed over the years were not receptive to country kids. We felt like outsiders and I never overcame that feeling all through high school.
We missed the camaraderie of our cozy classroom and the freedom of the playground. In our country school, we knew everyone and they knew us. At recess, all ages from first grade through eighth grade played softball together or jumped rope or played running games. The school ground included a vintage merry-go-round that spun at dizzying speeds when the older boys pulled it round and round. You could sit on the splintery seat and grip the handrail or if you felt daring, you could stand on the seat and hold the upright pole. Sometimes centrifugal force took hold and your feet left the seat while you clung to the pole flying through the air.
When the weather was too bad, we could play in the basement of the school. I remember the 8th graders bringing a record player and we tried to learn the latest dances. This was just a few years before the Beatles took rock music by storm.
We rode the school bus to West Branch and brought our lunches in square metal lunch boxes. At our house fixing five lunches required an assembly line in the morning as we made sandwiches and packaged up homemade cookies. The school provided the square cartons of milk to go with our lunches. I think we had to bring “milk money” to pay for it, but I don’t remember how much it was.
Thank you, Mrs. Waltman, for making my years at a country school, ones that I remember so fondly.
(this has also been posted on the Our Echo website where people can share family stories)