1990s pupils, 1940s lessons One-room school: For one day, gifted and talented fifth-graders at Bollman Bridge Elementary School got a taste of education 1940s-style.

February 11, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

"Enrichment Valley School" opened for learning Friday morning inside Bollman Bridge Elementary School, giving students a taste of the one-room schoolhouse of the 1940s.

Three dozen fifth-graders in the Jessup school's gifted and talented program spent the day on lessons taken from 1942, working on penmanship, constructing Valentine's Day hearts for soldiers and diagramming sentences.

"It's been pretty fun, but I prefer '90s-style education to '40s-style education," said 10-year-old Sarah Tolliver who, like all other girls in the class that day, wore a dress in the style of the 1940s. "Now we get to wear pants instead of dressing up every day. I like that girls have more freedom now."

The one-day living history lesson culminated months of study by the students about life in the 1940s and the tradition of the one-room schoolhouse.

From the moment the students entered the classroom of Marlene Iris, who teaches gifted and talented students early Friday morning, they began a daylong exercise that included pretending that the date was Feb. 9, 1942.

Several gave Ms. Iris apples, and nearly all were dressed the way their counterparts of that era would have. Many boys rolled up their pants and pulled their socks up high to simulate the knickers that they believed were the dress of the early 1940s.

The classroom's walls were covered with pictures, newspaper clippings and artifacts of the time -- including textbooks from the era, an old Ritz cracker box and posters reminding students to support the troops fighting in World War II.

The room's two computers were hidden behind black paper and a replica of a pot-bellied stove.

Students have been researching one-room schoolhouses since October, learning all they could about the now-closed one-room Dayton Elementary School, which was in western Howard in the 1940s. They also found a modern one-room school -- Croydon Village School in Newport, N.H. -- and exchanged letters with students there.

"It's a way for them to learn and use their creativity," Ms. Iris said of the project. "They've really gotten into it."

Friday's class began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the singing of a patriotic song, along with a moment of silence to pray for the soldiers overseas. One bulletin board was devoted to recognizing students' fathers, brothers and grandfathers, who might well have been drafted had the year really been 1942.

World War II was the dominant theme of the day. Students discussed rationing and scarcity and bought stamps for war bonds, doing their part to contribute to the war effort.

They even dived under their desks during a midmorning air raid drill. Recess was devoted to listening to a radio show of the era, "Fibber McGee and Molly."

"It was a better learning experience than just reading about the time," said Briana Stephenson, 10. "We were living it and always thinking about how they acted at the time. It felt more real."

Beyond the history lessons, the biggest change for the students was the teaching style of the 1940s.

Ms. Iris patrolled the classroom demanding that students maintain good posture, and she also threatened to make them write sentences repeatedly on the board if they misbehaved.

During the penmanship lesson, all students were required to write with their right hands in proper cursive. Ms. Iris suggested that left-handed students sit on their left hands.

"I didn't like that at all," said left-handed Greg Bartos, 10. "I would have gotten a lot of bad grades back then because the teachers never would have been able to read my squiggles."

As in the 1940s, girls and boys were treated differently by Ms. Iris. Only boys were permitted to pretend to get water from the well and put more coal into the stove, and only girls swept the room.

"Boys need to know this math for their jobs, but you girls will enjoy the sewing class next week," Ms. Iris said during the mathematics lesson.

Students said the most frustrating aspect of the one-room schoolhouse was its isolation. They stayed in the classroom all day, and those who walked down the hall to the bathroom wore a sign telling others not to speak to them.

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