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Rachel Singer Remembers School Days

These remembrances of old schools and her teaching days were written down by Rachel Hazelton Singer when she was in her nineties. In order to clear confusions and eliminate some redundancies, minimal editing has been done to her words.

Years ago in Palymara Township around Burnus Hill was known as Crosses. The post office was located in Howard Cross’s home. S.R. Hazelton had a sawmill located close to Burnus Hill. He employed about 35 men steadily and of course that brought in families who built homes and the children had to go to school. A school house was built a one room building adjoining the Hazelton mill yard. A stove was used to heat the room. Two outside privies were built one on each side in back of the school. School started at 9 O'clock and closed at 4 O’clock. The teacher at that time was Eval Nevins. The school was used five years at the most. When the Hazelton mill burned and all lumber and everything was destroyed, the families all moved out.

There were four other schools located in Palmyra Township.

No.1 Shiny Mt. School. I could not find the exact location, but was told that Louise Velterline taught there for years. When that school was closed all the children were sent down to the Red School.

No. 2. Red School: This school was located below the Jim Kellam home. At one time it was closed for awhile and the children were carted down to the White School.

No. 3. The White School: When it was closed the Gumble Town children were carted by horse and wagon or Bob sled up to the Red School. In the bobsled, a box was filled with hay for the children to sit on with blankets to cover them up. This school was closed when the Walempaupack lake was built and the consolidated school was built in Paupack (1925). For an 1899 White School Souvenir click here.

No. 4. The Tafton School: When the homes were sold to a large company the owners moved out so at one time there were very few children in Wilsonville or Tafton. Most of them lived up on Fairview Lake road, so the John Silver farmhouse served as the school. The family lived downstairs and upstairs was the school. The teacher was Emmaline Singer. In a few years people began to move into the houses that were vacated in Tafton and Wilsonville. This meant that children were back and they opened the Tafton School. Then they carted the few children from up Fairview lake way (by horse and wagon and sled in the winter), down to the Tafton School. This also included children from a small village between Roulb and Kimbels and all the children on the Pike county side of the bridge leading to Wilsonville. The school was built about 300 feet from where the Walenpaupack dike is located, so the foundation would be under deep water today. The houses were all torn down.

The building had three windows on each side and two in the back. They were very low and children sitting on the seats could see out. One door in front opened into a hall and two doors opened into the main room, A bench was built along the back of the room. There were four rows of desks with larger desks in the back. The bench in the back served as the seats for the four largest desks. The rest of the desks and seats were all fastened together in rows. First grade sat in the row closest to the teacher’s desk.

There was a bench up front where the pupil would come to sit while reciting, or go to the blackboard which ran from door to door in back of the teacher’s desk. This was fastened to the wall and was low enough for first graders to write on it. When the teacher gave a test, the questions were written on the blackboard. The board was slate, you wrote with chalk and the eraser was made of heavy felt. The board had to be washed about every night and erasers were taken outside and clapped together to remove the dust. The teacher also swept out the room every night after the children left for home. Then the teacher could call it a day at school. But all the daily lesson papers were taken home to be corrected and graded and the work for each grade for the next day would be planned. The day opened with devotional, repeating the Lords Prayer and bible reading, in some schools they would salute the American flag. Then the grades were called starting with first up to the eighth. Often an older child would help a little one with their writing. In the middle of the morning, there was a 15 minute recess. All books closed and out the door they ran. The big boys always had a chance to bat a few balls, and smaller ones jumped rope. And a game was played where you threw a ball over the roof and someone caught it and ran around the building but I don’t remember the object of the game*. Then back to their desks until noon. After the children ate the lunch they had brought they played until 1 O’clock. Afternoon was about the same as morning. For sixth grade and up, the day covered the subjects Reading, Math, History, Geography, Grammar, Writing, Physiology** and Spelling. It seems to me physiology and writing was every other day. The Palmer method was used for writing. Each month a report card was sent home to the parents. Each month the teacher gave a test by putting questions on the board and then grading the papers. That grade went on the report card but also figured in were the students attitude in school and number of days missed. The eighth graders had to take a test made by the County Superintendent who gave the test himself. If a child passed the test he received a diploma to enter high school.

The teacher would give permission to go outside. The child would raise his hand to ask, one finger meant the privy and two fingers were for a drink of water. At first the drinking water was in a water pail with a tin dipper. Later they required a closed container with a spigot and each child had to bring their own folding cup. The water was furnished by a kindly neighbor. The law about the water container went into effect when I was about 10 years old. The teacher also had to make sure that catalogs or newspapers were supplied in the outdoor privy.

Wood was always placed in the hall for rainy or snowy weather and the children would help bring it in for the large wood stove. Tafton school had a Pot Bellied stove and coal was burned. I had Albert McLain start the stove every morning for payment of 5¢ per week and it was always comfortable when I arrived. When it rained or snowed, wet cloths were hung by the stove to dry after the children themselves dried by the fire.

Teachers had absolute control over the school. If they didn’t do their work or did not mind she would keep them in for recess or after school at night. The parents always backed me up. I never had to use the ruler on anyone, I just figured a way to out smart them. But I was then fair with them and use them as if nothing had happened. I had to know each child as no two could be handled alike and it was fun to figure ahead of them. On the first of each month the School Director delivered new pencils and tablets for each child. The ink well in each desk was filled and pens were given to the older students. The wooden pens had removable points which were replaced when the pen began to scratch. The smaller children wrote with pencils.

Each township elected five School Directors who selected the teacher and set the salary. I started at $75 a month in 1920 and paid $4 a week for my board at Singers. By 1928 I was receiving $100 per month. I came to teach at Tafton in a very unexpected way. I had gone to Kutztown, but was unable to do the work and go to school so I returned home an a Saturday thinking the worst thoughts. But when one door closes in life a better one opens. I was worrying about what I would do with my life that Sunday evening when the telephone rang. A school Director from Palmyra township called to ask if a Hazelton girl had graduated from high school and would she be available to go to Milford to take the teachers test for a position at the Tafton school.I received my teaching permit on Monday and went to Tafton to Teach. There had been a mix up about the teacher there. A girl had been hired with a parochial high school education, but she had no teaching permit.The wife of one of the directors put her out and started teaching. The parents objected to her teaching and were keeping their children home, so only her own two children were attending the school. The other directors located and hired me. When my father took me to the school that morning I was surprised by the large gathering. All the directors were there except the husband of the teacher. The other teacher was there, and parents and children. I didn’t know what to do. The president of the school board said “ring the bell”, so I did. The other teacher rang the second bell and all the children came in and took their seats. I read from the bible and she repeated the Lords Prayer. Then she called the first grade and thought that. I called*** the second grade and it continued that way until recess. The parents went home as well as the directors, but the president stayed. All during the noon hour while the children were out playing they exchanged insulting remarks. The afternoon was the same as the morning. At 4 O’clock the president left after giving me a padlock for the door. At the end of the day, she locked the door with a key and I padlocked the door. She drove to Hawley to see her lawyer and I walked up to Singer’s. The next morning we both arrived at the school at the same time. She gave me the key and said “the trouble wasn’t between us and she was taking the directors to court”. But since her husband was the only one in favor of her, the matter was dropped and nothing more was said about it. They were a very nice group of boys and girl and after teaching there for 3 years, I was sorry to leave them.

The school was closed and the building torn down as the lake was almost finished and the land would soon be flooded. The White school was to be reopened and the Red School was already gone. Children were now being carted from Gumble Town, Paupack and Tafton to the old White School. Ann Seltzer (Gumble) was the teacher as I had accepted a teaching job at the Greentown School.

Every year the teacher and pupils would hold a social and charge to raise money for the school. The money was for things that the School Board did not provide, perhaps library books or art supplies. The school would also give entertainments at Christmas and the end of the school year. The children would give little plays and recite poems. Everyone was invited and we all had a very sociable time at the gatherings. For years it was either walk there or ride by horse and wagon.

* Ed note: They still played this game when I was in school. We called it “Kelly Over” and I too do not remember the purpose.

** Not sure what the word is. In her notes, my Mom spelled it Physologh. Physiology could be what later came to be called health science. I doubt that it included sex education.

*** There are several references to “calling the grades”. It sounds like attendance was taken followed by the first lesson of the day, grade by grade.