Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


Nine High Schools existed in Van Buren County during the 1950s. Since there were only two consolidated school districts (Selma and Douds-Leando,) many rural one-room schools dotted the countyís landscape, approximately four miles apart in every direction.

I attended 7th and 8th grade at one taught by Waneta Gwinnup fifty years ago. During the 1952-1953 and 1953-1954 school years, 24 to 30 students ranging from age 4 to 14 were enrolled with me at Pittsburg Number 4.

The building had recently been wired for electricity but had no running water. We carried buckets of water from a well on the west side of the building to a stone water cooler inside. At the east end of the schoolyard were two outhouse privies, one for each gender. An oil stove circulated some heat during the winter, but the building was not insulated and was often very drafty and cold.

There were actually two rooms. The first room was a small vestibule that housed the bell tower. A rope dangling through the ceiling was used to ring the bell, announcing the beginning of each school day. Two small windows on each side of the door allowed light to enter the tiny room where a sandbox in a wooden frame was placed on a large square table. There was also a bench and some little reading chairs. This room could be closed off from the main schoolroom to prevent heat loss and for holding kindergarten and first grade classes somewhat privately and independently. Older students were allowed to take small children to this room to help them with their lessons and projects.

In the right-hand corner of the large room, hooks along the wall provided a place for coats and caps. Lunch boxes and overshoes were also kept in this area. From the coat racks, a long blackboard was centered along the east wall, and centered in front of it was the teacherís desk. In the far corner was an old upright piano in front of which was a square table, and several chairs. Beside the piano stood the American flag and the Iowa State flag. We often began the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, though not always. Reciting the pledge was not mandatory, but was considered a privilege and something for which we should have great respect.

The west wall contained three large double-windows, with another set in the northwest corner. Along the north wall and up to the windowsills were enclosed bookcases. Below the windows along the west wall were several reading benches. The water cooler and globe were kept on a small table by the door along the south wall.

In between were six rows of desks facing the blackboard, attached to one another on wooden runners. The first row was for middle-grade students, and then they became progressively smaller in size except for the last two rows, which were large desks reserved for the older children and those who were tall. Total desks numbered 35, thus we never quite filled the room and everyone had his own working and writing space. Old-timers would tell us how uncomfortable it had been when they sometimes were required to share desks with other students.

Classes were held somewhere almost constantly and often simultaneously. Yet students not having class were reasonably quiet and respectful, and rarely disturbed those that were in session. I do not recall discipline ever being a serious problem at Pittsburg. Although we soon learned to concentrate with activity going on around us, we could eavesdrop on other classes, and I believe this gave us a distinct advantage.

This type of school system has long vanished, but several modern concepts of teaching were being invoked at Pittsburg long before the ideas were pioneered or introduced in large school systems. Mrs. Gwinnup encouraged creativity, cognitive thinking, the use of drama in learning such as role playing, content reading across the curriculum, teaching by phonics, peer tutoring, cooperative learning, personalized learning, group learning activities or projects, pair learning, exploring and/or discussion, task cards or charts, and she used student helpers or advisors whenever possible.

Much of what I learned during the two years under Mrs. Gwinnup, I found use for years later as a basis of experience in education classes and in the classroom. What I remember most about her tutelage is that once we mastered the requirements at our grade level, we were encouraged to learn content of our choice at our own pace. I greatly appreciate how she helped me expand my artistic and writing abilities during my 8th grade year.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick