Country School Preservation Moving Forward in Iowa
by Bill Sherman
More than 60 persons eager to learn and share their country school preservation experiences gathered in early October at the Johnson County Historical Society Museum in Coralville Oct. 5-6. This was the 8th annual conference sponsored by the Iowa Historical Preservation Association.
Mark Dewalt of Winthrop University, SC praised Iowa for leading the nation in efforts to preserve country school buildings, program and history. He encouraged participants to make a greater effort to involve younger persons with this important task. Mark, an expert on Amish Education in the United States related stories of how the people of the Nickel Mines School are moving forward with their lives after the tragic events of 2006. Susan Fineman, a schoolmarm from Nashua, NH reviewed early methods of discipline used in some country schools. She suggested that use of the “dunce cap” as a discipline was probably more a myth than a reality, but related how teacher training led a more professional and humane way of dealing with unruly scholars than beatings and humiliation.
Gordon Hendrickson of the State Historical Society updated participants on the procedures for applying for a country school grant.The grant application is available on line by going to the State Historical Society website www.iowahistory.org and clicking on country school grants. The deadline for submitting a grant is May 15. Matching money up to $5,000 is available to help with preservation of buildings used as one and two-room schools that will be used for educational purposes.
Rosanne Malek of the Iowa Department of Education talked about a new source of funding for school preservation—a service learning grant available through public schools. Barb MacDougall of Boone talked about the service learning grant she had received to involve elementary students at her school in a country school preservation project.
Candy Steed presented information on the National Heritage Area, Silos and Smokestacks, and spoke of area country schools and how they fit into rural tourism, visitor programming, and interpretation of the history of the 37 counties of NE Iowa.
Other Iowa activities related to country school preservation included a new book, "They Opened the Door and Let My Future In," based on interviews with former country school teachers by Helen Augustine of Emmetsburg, the creation of Iowa’s first country school replica in Albia by Beary and Marilyn Robinette, creation of the first agribition center in Iowa, www.heartlandacresusa.com near Independence, by program manager Mike McGill, and the development of a new country school video by Jeanette Kottke and Sue Benning of Fredericksburg. Sarah Uthoff offered a presentation about the country school listserve she established on Yahoo Groups and encouraged participants to sign up for this free service that links people who wish to write and talk about one-room schools. firstname.lastname@example.org. John David Thompson did a reading from his Country Poems of Iowa and signed copies of his book.
Participants had a chance to visit and learn about a unique preservation project at the two-room Coralville school. The bottom floor classroom has been restored to the 1870s when the school opened and work is nearly complete on the second floor classroom to depict the 1950s when the school was closed. Saturday morning more than 40 people visited an Amish school, public school museums in Kalona and Wellman and one of the first consolidated township high schools established in Iowa.The building is now used as a community meeting center in Washington township. They also ate a home-cooked meal in a Mennonite home, an experience they will never forget.
The 2008 IOWA country school conference will be held in Ames Oct. 3-4.
Editor's Note: Bill Sherman submitted the above article, not mentioning the fact that he organized this annual Iowa Conference in Coralville as he has for years. The agenda was packed with vital information, and the enthusiasm was contagious! Iowans rolled out the red carpet, the schoolhouses were a testament to diligent preservation work, and the food hearty! Our sincere thanks to Bill and his wife, Faith, who led us through a memorable two and a half days!