School Life

Forest Grove School Alumni Reunion . . . The Restoration Begins
March 6th, 2012

A group of former Schoolhouse#5 students, ranging from the age of 61 to 94, gathered to discuss their experiences in Forest Grove School.  The one-room school, with many grades under one roof, with curriculum matching each grade level, had one teacher wearing many hats  including instructor, nurse, custodian, furnace stoker, lunch room attendant and counselor.  Following is an excerpt of their memories.  (Click here for a complete copy of the narrative put together by Chris Agy.)

Thirty boys and girls, ages 5 to 13 or 14, taught by one teacher who was often young and just out of school.  A few teachers stayed for multiple years, but many stayed for just one year.   Marianne Hansen taught this group for the longest time period.  Today, it is hard to imagine how any teacher, inexperienced or seasoned, would go into this room daily and deliver instructions for nine different levels of curriculum.  Subjects taught included English, math, reading, writing, spelling, geography, and history among others according to Larry’s report card.  Skill sets were evaluated in reading.  Citizenship was graded, accompanied by a written annotation.

All of the former students mentioned the uninterrupted routine of the school schedule.  Very few days off, and never for snow.  They might get a ride to school if the snow was deep, sitting in a neighbor’s wagon as they were delivering the day’s milk.  The school year started after Labor Day and ended near Memorial Day.  Most walked to school, living within a half mile of the school.  Many walked barefoot as during WWII, shoes were rationed.  One pair a year.  If you could save the leather by going barefoot, that was the practical thing to do. 

The school day started with the same ritual.  The eight o’clock bell would be rung by a student.  Two lines would be formed; girls on the left, boys on the right.  The flag was raised, and the Pledge of Allegiance recited.  As they entered the school, coats and lunches would be left in the outer room.  The organization of the classroom never changed, kindergartners in front, with desks and students graduating in size and years behind.

When asked about their favorite memories of school, all remembered the games and activities.  The Giant Stride, a tall pole with ropes for hanging and spinning, which sent smaller students flying off the rope holds, was a favorite.  Annie, Annie Over was another favorite recess game.  Boys on one side of the school, girls on the other.  All was well unless the ball went into the boys’ outhouse.

Books, they told us, were purchased by the parents each fall.  A local store in Princeton stocked them.  The former students didn’t remember the cost being a hardship for the family.  The books might be 10 or 15 cents each.  They weren’t returned as used or resold, but families saved them from one sibling to the next.

All remembered Christmas programs as a much loved tradition.  The second big day was the last day of school in late spring.  They gathered families for a picnic; even the ever busy farmer dads would leave the fields for a few hours.  Moms brought food.  The picnic would be held away from the school, at the wedge of a pie-shaped field.

The need to capture the thoughts and memories about this unique form of education is critical.  A restored Forest Grove School will be the perfect setting to house the written and recorded memories.


After the 1840’s, country schools were built so that no child had to walk more than two miles to attend school.  Many kids enjoyed their morning walks because they were free from chores, school work, and adults.  Their only worry was getting to school before the teacher rang the bell shortly before 9 a.m.

Before roads were built, early trips to school were adventurous.  Kids crossed fields, prairies, and pastures to get to school.  Some climbed over fences and fallen trees.  Others took off their shoes and socks to cross prairie streams and creeks.  The weather sometimes made the walk to school difficult and even dangerous.  When it was too cold to walk, a horse-drawn sled carried kids over ice and snow.

One Room School Teachers

The one room school teacher’s day often began before dawn.  He or she walked to school or rode a horse.  In winter, teachers walked or rode in horse-drawn sleds through the snowy darkness.  Country school teachers had many responsibilities.  They were janitors who swept dusty floors.  They umpired recess baseball games and tended scraped knees.  And they provided discipline when needed.  Some misbehaving students were punished with a hard ruler slapped across their hands.

Some schools had only one student during each term.  Others had nearly thirty.  Rural kids did not legally have to attend school until 1902, and many didn’t.  Older farm boys often stayed home to help with the crops and only went to school in the winter.

A busy teacher relied on students to help carry drinking and washing water to the school and to pass out and collect slates.  Students also emptied ashes from the wood stove, swept the floor, or helped younger students with their lessons.  Teachers were often paid with food and small salaries or living quarters.

Rules for Teachers

Teachers followed many rules.  Some were not allowed to dance at social gatherings or be away from home in the evenings.  All teachers were expected to attend church and keep their schoolhouses clean.  In Iowa’s early years of education, women teachers were not allowed to marry — they were expected to prepare lessons, not raise families.

Slowly, teachers saw changes in their country schools.  Electricity, running water, and indoor bathrooms were added to schoolhouses.  Forest Grove Schoolhouse had an indoor toilet.

Preserving a Scott County Treasure