Recalling country schoolThere are five country schools left in North Dakota but there are memories galore from retired teachers and former students.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
There are five country schools left in North Dakota but there are memories galore from retired teachers and former students.
They shared these memories of rural schools during a program presented Sunday, May 16, by the Stark County Historical Society.
“The school was the center of community events,” said retired teacher Dorothy Galyen.
Those in attendance gathered at Shipley School at Dickinson’s Museum Center.
Alice Bautz, who attended a rural school north of Regent, wondered how students didn’t freeze to death.
“All we had was a little pot-bellied stove in one corner of the school,” she said. “The little kids got to sit close by, but the older kids sat in the back. When we’d take turns washing the blackboard, the water would freeze.”
Rural schools have dwindled to five in North Dakota, said Sherry Sayler, North Dakota Department of Public Instruction administrative assistant.
Rural schools are defined as having one teacher in one room. The registered schools include: Sweet Briar in Morton County; Earl and Horse Creek in McKenzie County, Naughton and Manning in Burleigh County.
The department also counts an additional 31 graded elementary schools in 28 school districts. Graded schools may have additional rooms and teachers with some combination of grades from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, she said.
Galyen shared memories of teaching in a Dunn County rural school. She taught 12 years in a country school and 13 as a fourth grade teacher in Killdeer. Her largest rural school enrollment was 17 or 18.
“That was too much in seven grades. That was hard,” she said.
She vividly recalls the smell of her country school.
“There’s a certain smell and I’m not referring to mice,” she said. “What I remember coming into country school, it was fresh soap and water — a clean smell,” she said. “We had genuine hardwood floors, genuine slate boards and indoor toilets. We’d run to school so we didn’t have to go to the outside toilet.”
Galyen started teaching right out of high school, but later went to college.
“The teachers were poorly educated, but one thing, they loved it or they wouldn’t have taught. It was a passion for teaching,” she said. “Some kids coming out of country school did very well.”
Galyen remembers how several nationalities were represented in the early country schools.
“The teacher said we all had to speak English,” she said. “Of course, they carried that language home. I spoke German as a child. Once I started school that was the end of German at home.”
Galyen’s experiences differed from other rural school graduates, who described memories of running to the outdoor toilets in the middle of the winter.
One retired teacher recalls when the county superintendent came for a visit to the school dressed in a big hat, black skirt and high-heeled boots.
Another remembers their teacher boarded with one of the student’s parents.
EDee Steckler attended country school two miles northeast of Manning.
“Every year we had a basket social,” she said. “I decorated my basket and I had a crush on one boy. For three years in a row, a boy I did not like got my basket. He wouldn’t bid on anyone but mine. Years later, I found out he would give my brother a quarter to tell him which was my basket.”
Another recalled playing “Captain May I” or imagining an old syrup can lid was the gold for a game of cowboys and Indians.
Other memories centered on the Christmas programs, play days and the Young Citizens League.
“That was such a good organization — that was the best,” Galyen said. “It taught children to be patriotic, to think for themselves.”
She also remembers her school had a hot lunch program — sort of.
“We put potatoes right into the ashes and ate them at lunchtime,” she said.
Social services provided the school with extra butter, cheese and peanut butter, she said.
“I learned to eat baked potatoes with lots of butter,” she added.
Vivian Dinius, who attended a country school in Slope County, said the experience taught her about communication and getting along with people.
“The older ones helped the younger ones. The younger ones listened while they were sitting there doing penmanship,” she said. “They knew next year they’ll have the same thing.”
Dinius taught a short time in the Amidon country school, then later majored in chemistry and taught in area high schools.
Galyen loved her country school experience so much that she purchased the building.
“I just loved that school and I wanted to save it for everybody,” she said. “I moved it to our farmstead and it took me three years to redo it.”
Later, the school was donated to the Dunn County Historical Society and now is open to the public in Dunn Center.