Monday, August 30, 2010

The baby boomers have arrived, at least in my chapter about the school in 1953. I've been writing it this morning and I've uncovered one interesting fact. Before the 1953-54 school year, the cutoff birthday for beginning first grade in North Carolina was October 1. (Remember, no kindergarten back then.) The child born on or after that date had to wait until the next fall to start school.

World War II, the men were gone. Nine months after they returned, the boom began. But with the massive number of babies born in 1947 now arriving at the schoolhouse door in the fall of 1953, the date was moved to October 15 to allow some of the boomers a chance to start a year earlier. Who would have guessed that those fifteen days would make that much difference, but it did. It spread out the impact just a bit, just a tiny bit, but enough to add one more teacher to the faculty at Pilot Mountain School. No thought to the child's maturity level.  No thought to pedagogy. This decision was based on postwar reality.

Only recently has the cutoff date been revisited, researched and revised. Now the cut off in North Carolina is September 1. Thinking of the child. Finally.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Children in the 1950's were targets of marketing, just like today. Selling to children is not just a modern concept after all. One company in particular sold notebook filler paper with its Blue Horse logo. For twenty horse head trademarks, the students could get a cap. The cover sheet of each pack of paper offered more incentives, including a shiny new bicycle. What child could resist?

Would it attract enough children to sell the product? You bet it would.

Catch of the day,


Friday, August 27, 2010

I could never be a time traveler. Working on this project has shown me how disorienting time travel could be. Take yesterday. I researched 1957 and found that yes, the man was right, there actually was an earthquake during school. I found the newspaper article to prove it. Then I came home and typed an interview from a student who was at Pilot Mountain School in the late 1960's. To discombobulate me even more, the chapter I'm currently writing is in the 1950's and my revising is in the 1940's.

I'm all over the place, so I've had to put the 1940 revising to the side and keep my train of thought narrowed to the 1950's. But then I meet up with a lady who says, "You've just got to talk to this man. He was here when the school first opened." How can I resist!

Catch of the day,


Thursday, August 26, 2010

News flash: My granddaughter had homework on the first day of school. Kindergarten! Well, she only had to decorate her gingerbread girl, but still. My kind of teacher.

Parents love to exaggerate the "back in my days" stories, especially about school and the eternal homework struggle. The truth uncovered here by the storycatcher: Students at Pilot Mountain School back in the 1940's beginning years usually didn't take their work home. No, not at all. First because the teachers didn't assign it knowing the students had true, honest-to-goodness home work waiting for them in farm chores, or working in the sawmills, or helping in the house. But more than that, these children got their work finished. Every class at this school, with the exception of first grade, was a combination class. While the teacher worked with one grade, the other students did their work assignments. When they finished that work, they listened to the teacher's lessons with the other grade. If the other grade was a year younger, older students heard the lessons for the second time. (Reinforcement) If the other grade was a year older, younger students heard the lessons from the grade ahead. (Enrichment)

What a system! It worked for them. Could it work today?

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Today I take off my storycatcher hat and put on my Grannyhood hat. It's the first day of school for my granddaughter. She's headed to kindergarten and to a life that will never be the same. When it was my daughter and my son, I was so caught up in life and getting them ready on time that I didn't have a chance to think about what a profound day the first first day of school really is.

Today I ponder. I pray. I wonder what her little brain is absorbing. I'm sure I'll hear all about it this evening.

Embracing the Grannyhood,


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First day of school, 1944, came and went with Pilot Mountain School empty. The day came, the children didn't. Nor the second day, third day, even weeks later, no children. They were all quarantined at home in an every child left behind kind of way. That was the peak year of the polio epidemic in Burke County, a time of fear and dread when parents prayed that their sleeping children would still be healthy when they woke in the morning.

Health officials had placed a quarantine on all children. No movie houses could open. No youth activities. No sports. No family get togethers. No Sunday School. No running over to the neighbor's to play. After several weeks of staying home, these children were probably more ready than ever to return to school when it finally opened in the middle of September. Wonder what the teachers said to the children on the real first day of school. Did they discuss the epidemic? Did they count noses to see who didn't survive? If they had, they would have been pleased. All the Pilot Mountain children survived.

Catch of the day,


Monday, August 23, 2010

School orientations here in Caldwell County begin today. Students and parents visit classrooms, meet teachers.

1940's, there was no such thing. Students rode the bus, met the teacher on the first day, no parents involved. Actually there was no need for orientation at Burke County's Pilot Mountain School. There were only four teachers and six grades and with that little choice, students knew who their teachers would be. In many cases, they had them the previous year. First graders were kept together with one teacher, but the other classes were combinations, two grades together, and no such thing as kindergarten, not in 1940's public school North Carolina. That would come decades later.

First graders did have an orientation of sorts but it wasn't a preschool screening as in this diagnostic day and age. Instead the incoming first grade students came to school with their older brothers, sisters, cousins or neighbors the last week of school in May. Just a glimpse of what life would be like. No parents involved.

Would that work now? Catch of the day,


Friday, August 20, 2010

The missionary has arrived! Well, 1956 "has arrived" in my research as of yesterday. Ever since I started interviewing former students and teachers at Pilot Mountain School I've heard about Mrs. Lettie Hamlet and how she impacted them. What they don't know is that I had been reading about her back when I was into researching World War II and its impact on the children at the school. Lettie, Mrs. Hamlet, (sorry, I still can't call a teacher of this generation by her first name) and her husband had been living in China for years when Japan invaded and herded all the missionaries into containment camps. They spent months at this camp, under harsh conditions, I might add. They were exchanged for Japanese prisoners of war in 1944 and made their way home to Morganton. Now she's here, at the schoolhouse, ready to begin her distinguished career as a teacher. Now, as in 1956, now. Chapter seven in my manuscript now.

Catch of the day.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teacher Work Days

Today the teachers in my county go back to school. I have a critique group session this morning and in honor of this event, I'm wearing an apple necklace one of my students gave me once upon a time.

Ah, the teacher work days. So important. What a great invention, but also what a modern invention. The teachers I'm writing about in the 1940's would have been thrilled to have a paid day to prepare for the year. They showed up when the children showed up, or they came ahead on their own time.

They were paid every twenty work days. So twenty school days from today, these teachers would get paid. That worked fine back then until the few vacation days intervened. Two days for Thanksgiving pushed pay day back two days. Christmas break, even longer. At the end of 1946 the Christmas break was extended by two weeks of snow and poor road conditions. (Remember, this was before most side roads were paved.) Pay day came after the twenty work days and this year it was almost into February before they got the days. Late November to late January equals long dry spell.

In today's society with house payments due, car payments, credit card payments, and college loan payments, a young person could not survive with this system. The teachers in 1946 couldn't either, which is why the ones in Burke County hired a judge to advocate for them at the state general assembly. Not just any judge, either. The future great Senator Sam Ervin, Jr.
Drastic times...

Today's catch.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Schoolhouses and outhouses

The teachers in my local county are headed back to school this week. Without. Me. Yeah!

Instead I'm deep into the education process of the 1940's and 50's, catching all kinds of stories, and my heart goes out more and more to the teachers of that era. What champions they were. I don't know where to begin explaining how I came to that conclusion, but I think I'll start in the toilet because that's what I was writing about today.  Outhouses and indoor restrooms. (No, nothing is sacred when you are catching stories about a school.)

This was a country school after all, and I shouldn't have been surprised about the privies that were behind the school. The teachers and children those first few years thought nothing of outhouses, because that's what everyone had at home. Finally, though, the water system at the schoolhouse began working and the long anticipated indoor bathroom toilets became functional. Torlet. That's the old pronounciation. Torlet. Has sort of a ring. Torlet. So then the teachers had the very real job of potty training their students. I'd bet their teacher education courses never prepared them for that. From all reports, however, the transition to the inside had only one major snag.

The flush.

Outside, no problem. The children never needed to learn the flush. Inside, different story. There was the physical act of flushing, true. But the real problem came with the flushing noise that frightened the littlest ones and sent them running away. And there was the real problem that the older students couldn't stuff just anything down that new fangled hole like they could outside.

Oh the stories a storycatcher catches.


Friday, August 13, 2010

It's in the "house"

Way back when, before WalMart and even before convenience stores like Seven/Eleven or Circle K, people in the country bought their few necessary items at local stores and rarely went into town. Road conditions in the late 1800's limited travel, so many families opened a mercantile business in their homes to offer items for sale. These businesses were called "storehouses." I've always pictured a storehouse as a place to keep left over stuff, not a house to sell merchandise, but according to my research yesterday, I must expand that image. I'll color  my imagination with a little sepia to make it fit the nineteenth century and picture a local storehouse.

Likewise, many early schools began as "schoolhouses" where children were taught in the teacher's house. I often interchange the terms school and schoolhouse when referring to Pilot Mountain School. Or is it Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse?

Storehouse. Schoolhouse. When I taught Reading 080 at the community college, we talked a lot about denotation and connotation of words. Denotation (D for dictionary, my teaching kicking in here) is the actual definition of the word. Connotation is the feeling behind the word or the attachment the word has to the speaker, writer, listener or reader. So when someone in the Pilot Mountain area says they are going to that building on the hill, they call it the schoolhouse. That's what they say, "going up to the schoolhouse." It's a carry over from days gone by and I will do my part as the storycatcher to pass it along when I use schoolhouse instead of just plain school. In the mind's attachment, it's like going to another house, a schoolhouse. Does it bring a certain comfort to call the building a schoolhouse?


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to the Past

I'm back. I'm eager. I'm refreshed and ready to write.

A couple months of travel, grandchildren and old friends does wonders to a storycatcher's soul. It gives more stories to tell around the table, true. But it also offers a much needed step away to mull over things during the long hours on the road. And mulling I've done.

Surprise here. I've missed my new friends, the 1940's children of Pilot Mountain School. I've been meeting them as adults, but I really know them as children not only through the many interviews but also through the hours in the library reading newspaper accounts of their polio epidemics and rabid dog at the bus stop horror stories.

Now I'm working on the 1950's, meeting even more children through their adult voices. I am so ready to go back to the past. I'll keep you informed through my catch of the day, so join me as I uncover the stories.