One of the misfortunes of progress in education is the demise of the small country school. As I look back on all the attributes of attending a two-room school during the first eight years of my life, I wonder if we might have lost something we never can replace.
The small school I attended was located in western Sheridan County. The name of the community was Seguin. Our little German Catholic community boasted 50 hardy souls.
While mostly made of wood, our two-room school sported a stucco coating on the exterior. No bell tower adorned the top of Seguin Grade School. Instead, students took turns calling us to class, announcing recess and signaling the end of the school day by ringing a large, brass bell fitted with a black wooden handle.
The Sisters of St. Joseph provided us with a solid, top-notch foundation during my early years of education — nearly 55 years ago.
The main subjects included reading, writing, arithmetic and English. The last subject I enjoy even to this day. I especially liked to diagram sentences on the blackboard, and they were black back in those days. I wrote as neatly as I could with a piece of long, white chalk.
Because we lived in the sparsely populated western part of Kansas, we looked forward to school every day. It was fun to be with other kids. More importantly, we enjoyed learning.
After attending mass at St. Martin of Tours, we walked approximately a quarter mile across native buffalo grass to our school located at the northwest corner of our small prairie town.
We entered school through double doors on the east side of the building and climbed up the stairs to our classroom. Huge, double-hung windows covered nearly every inch of the west side of each classroom. These rooms were located on the second floor of the building so we could see for miles. Some days, we could see the Colby elevators 24 miles to the west.
Each room contained approximately 20 ink-stained wooden desks. Each had a hole in the upper right-hand corner to hold a bottle of black ink.
A large American flag stood in the right corner in the front of our school. The blackboard stretched the entire length of the front wall, and a portrait of George Washington hung in solitary splendor on the left side.
Every day we began the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. We included the phrase, “One nation, under God,” and each one of us stood at attention with our right hand covering our heart.
I’ll always remember my first day at school. Once I found my desk, I promptly began to whistle. I’d grown up listening to Mom whistle while she worked around our house, so I just naturally began whistling at school.
This conduct resulted in a visit to the cloakroom where we hung our coats and stored our lunch boxes. Here the door was closed behind me, and I spent the next few minutes crying aloud.
How was I to know a happy student wasn’t to whistle while he worked?
Well, that unhappy experience hardly proved a bump in the school highway. I loved reading, listening and learning, and most of all, my teachers.
Throughout my eight years in Seguin, enrollment at my two-room school never exceeded 35 students. I spent all three years with two classmates, Dorothy Meier and Virginia Wegman. I can’t remember a class with more than five children.
With such a small enrollment, each room combined classes. First and second grade studied the same subjects, while third and fourth did likewise. Because we were in the same room, I could listen to and learn from both classes. Something I did with gusto.
As a youngster and throughout my 18 years of education, I have always been a sponge — absorbing everything I could sink my teeth into. Learning and listening always has come naturally for me. Although I don’t think it hurt that our teachers, the Sisters of St. Joseph, were strict. In fact, talking in class resulted in an automatic ticket to the cloakroom, or time spent at the chalkboard after school.
One of my favorite periods throughout grade school occurred immediately following lunch. That’s when students read aloud. Books came from our extensive library.
The first book I chose to read during my fifth year in Seguin was “Lorna Doone” by R.D. Blackmore. I couldn’t put this book down, and I wanted to share this story with my classmates.
“Lorna Doone” is a simple tale about the outlaw Doone family who lived and pillaged deep in the depths of Bagworthy Forest, the blackest and the loneliest place of all that kept the sun out. Here the beautiful maiden Lorna Doone lives and weds John Ridds, whose father was killed by the Doones on his way home from market.
Quite a read, if you haven’t already.
And who can forget all the games we enjoyed during recess?
We played circle, pom pom pull away, fox and geese, Annie Annie Over, and of course, every one of us turned into a monkey on the steel playground equipment.
What a wonderful time. What a wonderful place. What a wonderful experience.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwest Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.