Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bible School

This week is Bible School week at my church. One thing about the south, forget the extreme heat this year, summer means Bible School and mothers bring their children. My children got the religion in the summer! I made sure they attended Bible School at every church in the community. It was fun for them, not just part of their religious training. It was a break for me, maybe that was the real incentive.

Bible School is so much fun, it makes me want to go back and be a kid again. This year at our church it's about cooking:

I don't know if the children who attended Pilot Mountain School went to Bible School in the summers. None of the interviews I've done have included that topic. Those children didn't need Bible School. They had the Bible at school, whether they wanted it or not. In the days before the Supreme Court ruling, religion started the school day. The teacher led prayer. The students read Bible verses. Sometimes the teacher read selections from inspirational publications like The Upper Room or The Daily Bread.

There were weekly chapel programs where local minister shared their faith with the children. At eighth grade graduation, the minister's sermon came first on the agenda. True, there were children from various Christian denominations sitting in the classroom. No one thought about that.

When the ruling came and the school discontinued Bible related instruction, the community accepted it. The now grown children told me about the  first day of school the year the county complied with the ruling. Religion is a part of the home, the teachers said. We will follow the law, they said. And then they led the pledge of allegiance to the flag, including the phrase "under God" and started class. That was it.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer Produce

I've been knee deep in tomatoes, okra, corn and peppers this week, full of blessings from an overabundance in the garden, mine and that of generous friends. For supper tonight, I'll pick a "mess" of beans, as we call it here in the south. Nothing like walking out the back door to gather my own food.

Gathering food for a cafeteria during war time in the '40's was not nearly as simple. There were food shortages in the marketplace, but since Pilot Mountain School was in a rural area, local produce was available. The families brought bushel baskets of turnips, beans, apples, blackberries, anything the cafeteria could use. In exchange, their children ate lunch.

In yet another step to this barter system, the county superintendent announced that the school system would provide glass jars for the farm families to preserve local produce for the schools, once again in exchange for their children's lunches.

The children had nutritious meals. The school had the supply. The system worked.

Would it work today?

Catch of the day,


Monday, July 18, 2011

Building an Auditorium

This is a good example of the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Look closely, because the thousand words might be different from what you'd expect.

This is a class from the mid 1940's, probably around second or third graders, by the looks of the children. They are posing in front of the school. Scroll up to the current picture of the school and look to the middle entrance. That's where these children were. Where now there is a bricked wall leading up the steps, in the forties, it was metal. (More fun to swing on, I'm sure.)

Do you see what appears to be white barrels that the boys in the back are standing on? Guess again. Scroll up and look at the current picture. Those white "barrels" are there, too. They are the columns for the auditorium that laid in the early years on the ground, waiting "like giant bones scattered," according to one man I interviewed.

I heard them talk about those columns, about how they played on them, jumped over them, walked them like modern children walk the balance beam. I read the newspaper accounts about the bond issue that passed in 1947 that allotted money for building the auditorium, and I wondered. Why were the columns there for so long if it wasn't even built until the late forties?

Then I read the school board minutes. When the school was built in '41 and '42, the auditorium was a part of the original plan. Phase one was the first four rooms at the furtherest end in the picture above. The four classes moved into them in the fall of 1942 while construction continued on the second half. It was to be four more classrooms, a cafeteria, library, office, and auditorium. But, there, in the school board minutes, I found one simple comment.

Due to cost, (as usually happens in a building project) expenses ran over. The school board instructed the builders to forget the auditorium. Instead they were to remove the wall between two of the classrooms and turn that larger room into an auditorium. The school then would have six classrooms, not eight.

But they had columns, already purchased in anticipation of a real auditorium. What to do with them?

Nothing. Let the children crawl on them, play on them, pose for pictures on them. Leave them laying like giant bones as a reminder of what was taken from them or as a promise of what will someday be built.

That someday finally came and the results were beyond what the community expected. Still is. Look at it now at this auditorium link. So worth the wait.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Adding the Kindergarten

The daughter of a friend of mine just finished a year in the "More at Four" program at our local school. Last Sunday at church I was in the nursery with her and wow, what a kid. I had not had any contact with her for over a year, so her change in maturity and school prepared-ness amazed me. Is she ever ready for school!

The children at Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse had no such program to prepare them academically. They came to school one day the spring before their first grade year with an older brother or sister or cousin and sat through lessons. That was it.

Until the federal government stepped in.

First there was Head Start, designed to, in President Lyndon Johnson's words, "rescue these children from the clutches of poverty which otherwise could grip them all their lives and will put them on an even footing with their classmates as they enter school."

That was a summer program, not much of a head start, but more than they had before.

The biggest impact came from the federal kindergarten program. North Carolina at that time had no kindergarten paid with state money, only a few city systems forked over the money for this unproven expense. In 1968 a kindergarten program started at Pilot Mountain, complete with a teacher, teacher assistant and a bathtub in the room. Today a bathtub in the room conveys a comfy aura of children relaxing with pillows and library books. Life was different then. The bathtub was for washing children. (And also for a temporary home for ducks at Easter.)

The kindergarten closed before the school did and for the most glorious of all reasons.

The school lost its federal funding.

The income level in the community rose too far above the poverty level. Major. Accomplishment.

Catch of the day,


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Adding the Twelfth Grade

Oh, my, it's been a month since I last blogged. Could I use summer as the excuse, please?

Vacationing is only part of the story, though. What has kept me busy and away from the blog during this month is the inch by inch, line by line sloooow process of fact checking my manuscript. My eyes can take only so much before they say "That's it. Enough, already."

I have run across a few details that I'll need to clarify. The main one deals with the decision by the North Carolina General Assembly to add the twelfth grade to the public schools. Up to 1938, when the law was passed, graduation was at the end of the eleventh grade. I've interviewed several people who guessed as to the reason it was added. The depression, they claimed, keeping the workforce in the schools for another year. Not for more training, mind you. Staying in school kept them out of circulation competing for jobs.

I haven't found any proof of that, although I have searched. What I did find was that by the time the twelfth year was implemented, the depression was long since over.

Adding an extra grade consisted of more than just telling the students they couldn't graduate. More teachers had to be hired (and paid, during a tough economic period?). And then there was the space issue, where to put the students. And the curriculum issue, what to teach that extra year. And purchasing text books to match.

When the process finally trickled down to the district including Pilot Mountain School, seven years had passed and the world was completely different from the day the law passed. World War II had put everything on hold. The school system could barely keep eleven grades staffed, much less a twelfth. After the war, many women left teaching to start families (remember, no pregnant teachers were allowed to be in a classroom) and the men returning from war found better paying jobs in the private sector. Think "teacher shortage."

So here's the process, how the twelfth grade was added in Burke County:

The eleventh graders graduated as usual in 1944, and the tenth graders moved up to the eleventh grade the next fall. At the end of that year, spring of 1945, there was no high school graduation because no one had finished the required twelfth grade. Oh, there were a few students who had accumulated enough credits, so there was a class of 1945, six or seven members, maybe.

At the other end of the spectrum, the first graders arrived, as usual. So now there were extra students that needed a space. The children from Pilot Mountain had to this date been sent to nearby Salem School beginning their seventh grade year. To free some space at that school, the seventh graders did not move on. Three years later, when Salem School was over capacity, the eighth graders also remained at the school.

And that's the story of how Pilot Mountain School came into eight grades. But it's not the story of the emotions behind the story.

One boy in the eleventh grade class was disgusted that he would have to remain in school for another year to earn the same diploma his older brother earned for eleven years of school. He dropped out in protest.

There's always emotions and consequences behind every decision.

Catch of the day,