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A Point of View: Reflections from a Boston one-room schoolhouse

PICTURES OF THE PAST — The students of Boston Distirct No. 7 pose with their teacher, Olga L. Herren. Photo submitted by Robert Heichberger.
BOSTON — During an earlier time in our history, there were hundreds of one-room rural school houses dotted across the landscape. This is the recollection of one person who attended a one.

We thought we had it made. Now, I know we did. I attended Boston District No. 7. It was a school with one classroom, eight grades, one teacher and a room of multi-aged youngsters. We had a plethora of rich learning experiences, which went well beyond the basic three R’s. And the benefits of these learning experiences last not only for that season of my youth, but for a lifetime.

The school was several miles from my farm home, on Wohlhueter Road in the sun-kissed Boston hills of southern Erie Country. We had unpaved rural roads at that time, in this beautiful, hilly terrain. Rising before dawn, helping with the family farm chores and then walking the several miles to school was the regular routine. Seasonally, the walk was met with the raw winds and snows in the winter, awakening brisk rains in the spring and the aromatic breeze of the farm harvest season in the fall.

My older sister and brother would often break track in the heavy winter snows or shield me from the raw rains in the spring. And, when I was older, I did the same for the younger neighboring children. Helping each other, inside and outside of school, was a lesson we learned well.

The time of my youth was the depression years of the mid 1930s and we saw the onset of World War II in the early 1940s. History tells us, these were not easy times but, as young school boys and girls, we thought we had it made. After all, when going to school, we had our school lunch buckets in hand, a pair of new mail-order bib overalls to wear, a school to attend and our family and home to which to return at the end of the school day.

We had a schoolroom occupied by a family of youths ages 6 -16. And, most importantly, we had a caring, motivating and passionate teacher who created an atmosphere for success, in a secure and encouraging environment.

Our teacher served as creative instructor, thoughtful guidance counselor, comforting nurse, in loco parentis and genuine friend. The classroom brimmed with exploratory learning, exuberance in achievement and cutting-edge possibility thinking.

School lunch hour and recess were also a high point of the day. Twenty boys and girls of all ages always had plenty to do. A softball game for some, a game of red light and green light for others or a game of giant and baby steps. Sledding and skiing or a game of “fox and geese” was common, in the winter.

The school had twin stationary desks, a wood-burning stove and no running water, but a hand water pump in the back yard. There were hand-me-down books, a blackboard and always a colorful, in-season bulletin board. There was a genuine atmosphere of helpfulness. Often, older students helped the younger. We all were students and “teacher helpers” and we had a job to do. By the time we reached eighth-grade, we had already been exposed to eighth-grade materials, the preceding seven years, without realizing it.

Those were exciting days of schooling, in that one-room schoolhouse. Upon reflection, I realize that we had something that was very special. Music, the arts and sciences and physical and manual training, were all coordinated, within the curriculum.

We had an educational experience that contained all the virtues of the most modern curricular innovations of today, including mastery learning, looping strategies, effective schooling, authentic assessment, integrated standards and differentiated learning modules. But, in those days, they were not just part of an educational lexicon. Rather, they were just good, common-sense ways of teaching and learning.

This one-room country school, Boston No. 7, has been closed now, for many years. But the richness of what happened there lives on in the hearts and minds of the learners, generation after generation.

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