Remembering the Days of the Neighborhood School
By Karen Osburn, Archivist
In 1960 I was 8 years old. Back then everyone attended the neighborhood elementary school, either public or parochial. I looked, with no success, for a photograph of the outside of my old school before I started to write this article. However, I did get a chance to look at their website, which seems to indicate that grades K-5 still go to the same neighborhood school I did. When I went to school it was K-6. Siblings went to school together until they started Jr. High School, 7th grade at that time. Whole groups of neighborhood children trooped off to school in the morning, the older ones shepherding the younger ones, at times with visible reluctance. We walked a route that did not have sidewalks all the way, past construction sites and roadwork that would eventually turn our large rural town into many large subdivisions.
I don’t remember what the maximum walking distance from a house to the school was before you could ride a bus, but I think it was a ½ mile for K-3rd, ¾ of a mile for 4th – 6th and 1.5 miles for 7th – 12th. Most of us whined about the walk, especially on the days when we had to carry our book bags (no back packs then) and a musical instrument, but it was to no avail. Most families only had one car, which the principle bread winner (most often the father) drove to work so if we weren’t eligible to ride the bus we walked. In a way it was a bit of a benefit since “Walkers” got out earlier than the bus riders. This meant 10 or so extra minutes of freedom and a head start home. I think that was for safety reasons.
The children, who attended Mother of Sorrows’ school across the street, rode the same buses as those of us who went to Paddy Hill Elementary. The bus drivers dropped the public school students off first and the MOS students directly after. It was an arrangement that worked well at that time. We squabbled amongst ourselves at times and the bus drivers often threatened to return us to the school or stop by the roadside until we quieted down. The bigger kids picked on the little kids, and we all told our parents when someone was mean to us.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about my neighborhood school was the ability to visit with the teachers I had in earlier grades and let them know what was going on in my life. I remember visiting Miss Hike, Mrs. Reynolds, Mrs. Robinson, Miss Moganhan, and Mrs. Hughes even when I was in Mr. Shippy’s 6th grade class. My teachers dressed for class, the few male teachers wore suits and ties or sport coats and ties and the women always wore a dress or skirt. School was more formal then.
Still we had fun. Mothers baked cupcakes for our birthdays and brought them to school. I doubt anyone worried about contaminants in the homemade treats, though we students often speculated out loud about the contents of our cafeteria lunches. “Ew! I don’t like peas, Lima beans, carrots” or whatever the day’s vegetables were. We had recess and used jungle gyms made of galvanized pipe, and teeter totters made of wood. I am not advocating for a return to those days, I am simply remembering them with fondness.
We had tests in the 1960s. IQ tests were all the rage and if my memory serves me we had them more than once. We would all be anxious about any test, but the IQ ones were the ones for which we were never told the results. At the end of every school year we all lived in fear the teacher would somehow prevent us from advancing to the next grade.
I checked the Geneva Public Schools listed in the 1960 Geneva City Directory and found 7 public schools listed, plus Border City School, Waterloo School District No.5. Geneva had a high school, junior high school, North Street School, Prospect Avenue School, West Street School, and the Lewis Street Vocational School. There was even a one-room school house at Glass Factory Bay. Each of the elementary schools served a neighborhood and was an important center of that part of the community. Today, Geneva has West Street School, North Street School, Geneva Middle School and Geneva High School and each of these schools serve the entire population of the city.
I won’t debate the wisdom of neighborhood schools that are dedicated to the smaller age ranges of Pre-K to 2nd and 3rd to 5th and 6th to 8th because I am not an educator and I do not have children in school. But I feel the positive thing about the neighborhood school was that it created communities of parents and children with common bonds and common interests. You knew your neighbors, the houses along the route you walked, and the people who lived in them. You knew whose dogs bit, whose dogs played fetch, which moms would give you a cookie if you stopped over to play with your friends. Perhaps it is just my age, but I know my memories of school in the 1960s are not harsh or sad. Still, it may just be my age…