Day in My Life: Inside a two-room schoolhouse

Our little two-room school

Our little two-room school

Imagine you’re a six-year-old in 1911.  You live on a farm about a mile from the nearest neighbor.  It’s time for you to be educated, Ma says.  You’ve got new shoes–your first shoes ever–and you’ll walk with your big brother and sister down that dirt road, maybe three miles, and you’ll start school at a one-room or two-room school.

Your brother will help the other big kids stoke the wood stove that sits in the corner of the classroom.  You’ll eat your lunch out of a silver pail and make friends with perhaps the only other 1st grade student and you’ll play outside at recess even when it’s ten below zero (-23 C).  And you won’t freeze to death.  You’ll walk the three miles back home and do chores before supper.  Then you’ll start your homework.

Kids' papers on the door

Kids’ papers on the door

Those were the days, dear readers.  The days of the one- and two-room schoolhouses which dotted our countryside like a bouquet of wildflowers.  Teachers like Miss Olson and Miss Nelson and Miss Maki and Mr. Johnson taught their classes of rural students how to do readin’ and writin’ and ‘rithmatic.  (“Taught to the tune of the hickory stick” for those of you who know that old-time song.)

3rd-6th grade room

3rd-6th grade room

Who would have suspected that the little schoolhouses would slowly disappear?  Over the years they would be consolidated into bigger districts until very, very few schools remain in our United States of America.

Kindergarten - 2nd grade room

Kindergarten – 2nd grade room

We are very fortunate to live in a rural township which still features a public two-room school.  Arvon Township School was built in 1911.  It consolidated several smaller one-room schools around the township.  The district offered K-12 education and the building was considered a marvel of modern architecture and engineering to those who lived in this corner of the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan.



Fast forward to 2013.  The building still stands solid and strong, thanks to the foresight of members of the Board of Education.  The building educates K-6 students in its two downstairs classrooms.  The older students are bussed to L’Anse and Baraga, two nearby districts, for their junior high and high school education.

In the upstairs library:  globe and "Science Guy"

In the upstairs library: globe and “Science Guy”

The two classrooms (one for K-2nd graders and the other for 3rd-6th) are on the main floor.  The basement features a tiny cafeteria, and the upstairs–no kidding–has a small gym and library.

How many students attend our little school?  In the past dozen years the student count varies between five and 15.  Currently, we teach ten children.

How can we afford to stay open?  Fortunately, our township lands lie along Lake Superior.  Our local property taxes are more than enough to keep the small school operating.  We receive no state aid for operation.  We’ve even been able to lower the millage several times in recent years, so the school ends up being a godsend to local taxpayers.

In the library

In the library

This school is near and dear to my heart.  Both of our kids attended elementary school here.  And, even though I’m prejudiced, they both received a great primary education.  They both look back at their days at Arvon with fondness.

(In fact, they’re one of the reasons I’m posting this blog.  So they can see pics of what the school looks like now.)

Section of very old library books

Section of very old library books

And, of course, I have another blogging reason.

The Weekly Photo Challenge at WordPress is A Day in My Life.  They advise us to share photographically what our day is like.

Since I spend 12-16 hours a week working at this wonderful two-room school, one of the last of its kind in the country, I want to give you a peek inside.

The art room is on the other side of the library

The art room is on the other side of the library

This, my friends, is a Day in my Life.

Bright flowers for an art project

Bright flowers for an art project

Except I’m not teaching the kids.

No, indeed.  I am the person upstairs figuring with the numbers, making everything balance out to the penny.

Wonder what art project they'll make with these old bottles?

Wonder what art project they’ll make with these old bottles?

This Science Guy has been in the library for as long as I can remember.

This Science Guy has been in the library for as long as I can remember.

You can even see where I shall be working soon later this morning in the next photo.  The school is empty this week, as all the kids are on Easter vacation, lucky students, don’t you think?

This is the Business Manager's office.  Can anyone guess who the Business Manager might be?

This is the Business Manager’s office. Can anyone guess who the Business Manager might be?

Thank you for pausing to enjoy some photos of our two-room school.  (Yes, if you count the library and gym, there are actually four rooms, plus some small cubbyholes for offices and storage, plus of course the basement with the cafeteria.   But it’s still considered a two-room school because of the number of classrooms.)

It’s been a great joy to be a part of this wonderful school for so many years.  Have any of you ever attended or visited a one- or two-room school? Did your parents or grandparents attend one?  Did they share good memories?

Old wooden chair in the library.  Light streaming through the windows.  Peaceful morning during Easter break...

Old wooden chair in the library. Light streaming through the windows. Peaceful morning during Easter break…

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in April 2013 and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Day in My Life: Inside a two-room schoolhouse

  1. lisaspiral says:

    My Mom graduated with a slightly higher student population, but family size was generally bigger in those days. Probably a similar number of families in attendance as at your little township school. It looks adorable and I don’t doubt that the kids who attend get a solid foundation for their future learning.

  2. The school district that I went to was just starting to modernize. They were building a new school with one room per grade level, but they shipped us kids around to the old two room school buildings from my second grade to fourth grade.

  3. Debra Collins says:

    I too have wonderful memories of this school. Years ago the school would make an ice rink and my sister Jan and I would walk on snow covered roads in the dark to skate. Never a worry of any harm coming to us. My sister now lives next door to the school and helps with the students there. Thank you for bringing these lovely memories back of my two room school house.

  4. jeff v says:

    Thanks for a peek inside that beautiful school. I’ve been past it many times and always marvel at the building itself and the fact that it is still in operation. I am proud to chip in by way of my property taxes to fund the Arvon school. Good job to you and all those who work and go to school there.

  5. sybil says:

    Sadly, here in Nova Scotia, many of these small schools are being closed down and amalgamated. Our tax base in rural areas is rather poor … I never experienced it for myself, but I see it as a very positive experience. The younger kids listening to the older kids being taught and the older kids sometimes helping the youg’uns.

  6. Karen says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Our town has two one room little red schoolhouses. One is just up the road from our home. When we were restoring our home a few years ago, our plumber said he went to that one room school. You are right, he walked a long distance to get there and was the one that got the fire going in the morning.

  7. dorannrule says:

    I live in a rural community near to a small town. They are consolidating the middle school. It is a gigantic project that looks like a major airport under construction. Your post on the joy of the one and two room school house is lovely and should be preserved and buried for posterity to discover later and recall.

  8. john says:

    I think the accomplishments of your children alone attest to the quality of the school. One of the things that always amazes me is that you are both the tax collector and business manager for the school. I wish I could have experienced a setting like this for at least part of my education.

  9. lucindalines says:

    I attended a one room school until the fifth grade. The school my children went to was a bit larger, but the elementary principal of their school kept reminding us that it was the children of the one-room schools who grew up to become the engineers who put a man on the moon. Go figure.

  10. I am so glad at least one of these schools is still around and in use as a school. There is still the one room school building here on Mayne Island but it is no longer used for this purpose and is stilling on the grounds of the firehall while its next purpose is decided. Great to be part of your everyday, as always.

  11. Heather says:

    What a beautiful structure, and how cool is it that those 10 students will share in this terrific quaintness? I went to elementary school in a 6-room (I suppose) building, which has since closed. We weren’t as tiny as your district, but to other students in the county who went to larger elementary schools, it was unthinkable that there was only ONE first grade teacher, and only ONE second grade teacher…

  12. I had no idea something like a 2-room schoolhouse still existed! I bet the kids get a great education there and I bet the school “officials” don’t try to get all the kids on psychotropic drugs instead of actually teaching them and letting them act like children.

  13. Val says:

    Enjoyable post, Kathy. I went to school in a big city so didn’t attend anything like this, but where I live now the local primary school was recently closed because there weren’t enough pupils, but til its closure it only had about a dozen children.

  14. What a great virtual tour – and from someone who’s really in-the-know! I have never attended a one or two room school, but I have visited one in Minnesota, and another in Idaho. How cool that this experience is woven into the fabric of your tapestry. And how fortunate for them that you are!

  15. rehill56 says:

    I teach Spanish one day a week at this little school and am delighted to see your blog. My husband has fond memories of going to this school from kindergarten through the eighth grade. At that time there were about fifty plus students. Students were expected to help where needed and he worked with many students. He has shared what it was like having your principal or teacher invited home to dinner! Surprise! There was truly a spirit of “it takes a village” to raise a child. He told a story of hunting season where the kids saw a deer out of the school windows and the principal went out to his volkswagon beetle, got his hunting rifle and shot the deer. The kids dressed it out for him hanging in an apple tree out back. (THAT wouldn’t happen today.) They would also have lessons in science out back in the woods by the beaver pond. One of his teacher’s is now in her 90’s and now I’m a friend of her daughter! Love the circle of life up here! So many memories.

  16. NiinaMaria says:

    I went to a small school as well. We had grades 1 and 2 in one room and 3-6 in the other. The year I started school there, there was only 10 students in total.

  17. Brenda Hardie says:

    Thank you, Kathy for this peek inside this wonderful treasure! I love the old 1 and 2 room schools but sadly there aren’t any in this location. I am, however, very grateful for the smaller than average Catholic school that my son attends and my older son attended as well. The sense of belonging and the sense of community is strong and vibrant. And your words and photos really show us how rich we are to be blessed with such gifts.

  18. you brought back some lovely memories– I went to a one room school for the first four grades and then was transferred to the big area school–but there are a lot of memories in those four years-

  19. Robin says:

    What a wonderful school, Kathy! How lucky for the students, and for you, to have such a wonderful place. I think a lot of schools have grown too big for their britches lately. I attended a two room school when I was in the 4th grade, just for that one year. After that, it was off to the big, consolidated schools. I did better in the smaller school. And I got to go home for lunch! 🙂

  20. Chris Roddy says:

    Attended a one room schoolhouse, in Naubinway, 1955 for about 6 wks. There were 2 of us in K. My brother, 5 yrs.older than me, went to school in Engadine, Mi. We stayed in the U. P. that Labor Day and beyond, because the weather was too nice to leave. It was definately a learning experience.

  21. Stacy says:

    I think that all communities should value their children enough to offer them a school like this. It’s far better than those mega-schools who house hundreds (or thousands) of kids. That’s the opinion of a former high school teacher who taught at a relatively small school of eight hundred. (The other district high schools had over two thousand.) ❤

  22. Sheryl says:

    Thanks for the peak inside the school. It looks like such a friendly, welcoming place. It’s awesome that it still exists.

  23. mithriluna says:

    Thank you for the lovely post!

  24. Colleen says:

    Kathy, I have loved seeing your school and sharing part of your day. My Mom was the only teacher in a one-room school up in northern Alberta. During the war she moved to Ontario and worked in a factory that manufactured ammunition etc. And also played on a semi-professional women’s ball team. When the war ended she came back to Alberta to teach in another one room school house, this time with an attached teacherage (before this she had been boarding with local families). This was where she met my Dad who was a local rancher and had just returned from fighting overseas. And the rest, as they say, is history.

    Have a wonderful visit with your parents 🙂

  25. sonali says:

    I SO want to go back to school. Awww Kathy! Such a wonderful time. And I love your day and all the days that you must be spending at the colorful place. So lovely. I suddenly need some crayons now…. off the shelf!

  26. dawnkinster says:

    My Mom went to a one room school until high school. High school she had to go to town to a big city (Ann Arbor) school. She was terrified. I can imagine it was really difficult to make that transition.

  27. Reggie says:

    This is such a cool place, Kathy. I can imagine how much fun it would be to work here, or to go to such a school. 10 kids?! Wow… Totally love it.

  28. It looks like a magical place – and I bet it is for the students.

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