Schools: From Then to Now
What was school like 50 years ago? Not so different than it is now. Many things were similar, such as lunches, recess and school days. But many things were different. For example, what would happen now if you did something wrong? What would have happened then?
Now, in 2004, at school, a typical punishment is sitting away from the group to control yourself, we call it "taking a break." If you forget your homework, you stay in for recess to redo it. The teacher teaches 1-2 grades at a time. Our school is divided into 4 classes: Kindergarten, first/second, third/fourth, and fifth/sixth. There is also a multi-purpose room where we do gym and eat our lunch, a special education room, the principal's office, the nurse's office, and the music room. There are 52 kids in the entire school. The largest class is first/second with 19 kids. The smallest class is Kindergarten with 4 kids. The teachers are kind, considerate, and sensitive.
In 1954 at school, a punishment was getting switched, hit across the palm with a ruler, or yelled at in front of the entire class. Ouch! What for? Talking back, fighting, or just general unruliness. There was absolutely no excuse for forgetting work. The teacher taught as many of 8 grades in 1 room. There were 30-35 kids in the entire school. The kids were divided into the two rooms: grades 1-4 in the smaller room and 5-8 in the larger room. How did the teacher manage all the different grades? She taught 1 grade while the other grades studied their lessons. Then, she would teach the next grade and the others would study. The teacher would rotate around through the grades she taught. The teachers used glares to show their authority.
What a difference! But the biggest change is what is offered and teaching in general. Now, we have computers, movies, and an in-school library. Back then it was considered a field trip to walk for 5-10 minutes to the Hitchcock Library. They had no gym, and music was a special treat. Now we go on field trips and see for ourselves instead of reading from a book about it. This gives everyone an equal opportunity to learn, whether they learn best from a book or hands-on. Everyone's needs are met. Also, the school now offers after school programs, such as theater, dance, cooking, & Tae-Kwon-Do. Back then, kids went straight home to feed, clean, and care for the animals. They only stayed after if they lived on the second bus route. But buses were not very safe forms of transportation. The bus was a van with benches. Back then, farm life came first, then knowledge. Now, knowledge places first.
But many things are still the same. School is still from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. We still have recess and hot lunch. We even play many of the same recess games, including baseball/softball, kickball, basketball, swings, and tag games. However, 50 years ago they also played King of the Mountain in the winter, and Red Rover, Red Rover in the fall and spring. We don't play these activities now because of safety issues. However, we do play soccer and play on the slides. We still learn Arithmetic (Math), English, and Geography. We still are transported by school buses (though now they are much safer) and the teachers still teach more than one grade at a time.
Friendships and rivalries are also still a lot alike. However, now revenge is not so sweet. Examples of revenge from years ago are: When Alicia Couture was in school, there was a girl who always picked on her, so one day Alicia put a tack sharp side up on the bully's seat and the bully sat on it. Alicia later got in trouble, but it was good while it lasted. When Hazel Davis was in school, it was a boy who always picked on her. One day there was slush in the hall, and the boy slipped on it and fell. His face landed in a big puddle of slush. Hazel laughed and laughed.
Another eventful memory is from when Eileen Leblanc, was in teaching school. She helped someone teach science, and the teacher was very strict and scared the poor children with glares. Mrs. Leblanc didn't want to be that type of teacher. She student-taught with another teacher who would line up the children saying, "Who is the best?" Little Henry did his personal best, but he wasn't the best. Mrs. Leblanc didn't want to be that type of teacher either. With that, Mrs. Leblanc started a new line of teachers-kind, considerate, and friendly. She taught for thirty-five years at The Westfield School starting in 1951.
But what became of the students from the old Westfield schoolhouse? Well, in 1992 they combined with the Jay school students to form the Jay/Westfield Joint Elementary School. The idea started because The Westfield School was too small and didn't have enough students to offer what the kids should get at school. The towns put in $1,566,173 to build the school, so the school boards from both towns were very proud of it. Alice Gonyaw in particular thinks, "The school board, when the school was first put together, was running very well because we were all looking not for what our town would do or what would benefit our town, but what would benefit both towns. We were looking at the students because we were both small towns that couldn't offer our students enough individually." The joint school was a whole new experience for students and teachers alike. When it started, there were 86 students in the school: 54 students from Jay and 32 from Westfield. Third grade had 16 students and was the largest class. The smallest class was 5th grade with 9 students in it. The school took a little over 2 years to plan and put together, from the time meetings were first held with other towns such as Lowell and Jay to determine if they would like to form a joint school. Lowell was okay the way it was, but Jay was interested. Now that another town was involved, the two school boards and community members began to hold meetings to see if they could, should, or shouldn't build the school. Now, 12 years later, the school is still joint, linking the students of Jay and Westfield together.
The old Westfield schoolhouse is now our town's community center. Where there used to be a kitchen there is a coatroom. The big room is used now for senior meals and fundraisers such as the Mountain Jam for the library. If you venture upstairs, you can still see what it was like to go to school there. Peek out the window and you will see the playground, frozen in time, just as it looked 50 years ago.
All in all, school half a century ago wasn't so different than it is now. The schools were based on students, just like they are now. Our school board today makes our school strong because they look to one common goal: benefiting the students at school.