This morning on your way to school, you caught something: a ride.
It was way too cold to wait outside for the bus. Your teeth would be chattering before you could ever walk to school. So you had a personal chauffeur named “Mom” today, and you were pretty glad.
Now imagine wading to school in snow that’s waist-high and having to build a fire when you got there. Imagine going outside to go to the bathroom, no matter what the weather. And then read “One Room Schools” by Susan Apps-Bodilly.
When Susan Apps-Bodilly’s father was 5, he was excited for his first day of school to arrive. As soon as he heard the school bell from far-away, he knew he had a half-hour to be at his desk and ready to learn. But first, he’d have a long walk to the school house.
The school house was prepared for him, thanks to a neighbor who came and cleaned it top to bottom. All the desks were lined up and waiting for the kids in grades one through eight, the wooden floors were shined, and the windows were clear; it was 1939 and there was no electricity at school, so students could only use daylight and gas lamps to see their lessons.
Many of the kids who attended school had a job to do there. One older student was chosen to raise the flag each day, and it was an honor to have that job. Younger kids cleaned chalkboard erasers or fetched the mail or emptied waste baskets. Teachers and older kids made sure the outhouses were easy to get to (there were no indoor toilets!) or they pumped water and carried it inside for the water cooler.
Once all the school chores had been done, it was time to start learning. With eight grades in one room, younger students often would “listen in” on the lessons that older students were learning. Older students were always willing to help younger kids with their lessons, too. That helped a lot because everybody learned together.
Your local school has all kinds of amenities. But do the kids appreciate them? Once they’ve read “One Room Schools,” they surely will.
Using the Wisconsin-based tales of her father, Jerry Apps, the author gives young readers a sense of a normal school day, 80 years ago and the kids who eagerly attended those schools. Her chapters cover all seasons, lessons and recess activities, and they touch on the support that parents and communities gave their schools, which began closing in the 1940s. And since all this might be hard for children to believe, Apps-Bodilly includes lots of pictures as proof, which was my favorite part.
I’d like to say that this book is good for grandparents as well as for kids, but I think elders would be happier with a Jerry Apps original. Giving this book to your favorite 8- to 12-year-old to read, however, might happily spark some memory-sharing. You both may find that “One Room Schools” is a book with class.
View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children and teens weekly.