Grandparents enlighten Eudora teenagers with stories of school days with horses, Big Chief tabletsand outhouses
Before they even step through the door in the morning, eighth-graders at Eudora Middle School have already had a different school experience than did many of their grandparents.
Through a project in Bob Sailler's English class, the eighth-graders learned many students in their grandparents' generation arrived to school by tractor, trolley or horse.
"I think it would be kind of cool to be able to ride a horse by yourself and not ride with a bunch of other people," said Jake Love.
Sailler's students interviewed grandparents or others that age about their experiences in school and wrote papers about what they learned.
Michelle Smith compared a hitching post to a bike rack in her paper.
"It would be weird (riding a horse) on the highway," she said.
Kim Scherman found out one of her grandparents was taken to school in a precursor to the minivan -- a mother-driven horse and buggy.
The project integrated several subjects. The students typed their papers in keyboarding class, and their social studies classes were dealing with the time period during which their grandparents were in school.
Sailler's English classes also read the book "Nightjohn," about a slave who escapes to the North, learns to read, and returns to the South to teach fellow slaves. In addition to emphasizing the importance of reading before students take standardized assessment tests, Sailler said the book showed a different type of classroom environment from what students were accustomed.
Signs of the times
Many of the eighth-graders interviewed grandparents or others who attended one-room or small, rural schools, with many of them living on farms.
By talking with grandparents who were forced to leave school to work on farms or elsewhere during the Depression, the teenagers gained a sense of appreciation for education and being in school.
"They wanted to be at school, because (otherwise) they would be working on the farm," Smith said.
Emily Ballock said she thought the hardest part about leaving school for her grandparent was "just leaving all your friends and (leaving) learning."
Travis Clarke, who learned his grandfather went to school while his younger brother stayed at home to work on the farm, said given the choice he'd rather follow in his grandfather's footsteps because work would be harder than school.
Going to school during the 1930s had other downsides that made Smith appreciate her situation.
"Nowadays we know we'll get to school safely and get home safely," she said. "But they didn't know if they might have to ride home in a dust storm."
Other harsh realities of schools in the past surfaced, such as attending racially-segregated schools.
In many instances, the students found the subject matter and activities offered at school was more limited during their grandparents' time. Kayla Gilroy and Morgyn Carey said they appreciated the fact their school offered a variety of activities and allowed them to participate in choir.
Other students learned sports were limited, especially for their grandmothers, with the occasional exception of girls basketball. Sailler explained to them how the rules were different, with each player only covering half the court.
"Did they just not think that girls had the strength or energy to run up the court?" one student asked.
Tyler Flory realized how another world-shaping event affected the generation's athletic programs.
"My grandma didn't have a football team because the coaches and the boys had to fight in World War II," he said. "She didn't have a whole lot of boys in her class."
Tools of the trade
The students learned to appreciate modern school equipment, like calculators and the Internet. And because of the paper they wrote, they gained appreciation for the word processor in lieu of a Big Chief tablet and ink pens.
"If they had to write a thousand-word essay, they had to write it up by hand," Morgan Abel said. "It gives you spell check, but you still have to look for capitalization."
Sailler told the students he remembered in his first years as a teacher showing "Romeo and Juliet" on reel-to-reel film, making sure it didn't break or melt, looking for bubbling images on the screen that meant "you knew you were in trouble."
Many of the students said teachers like their own would have been a rarity in previous generations.
"My grandpa said they didn't care about them learning," Matthew Abel said. "I think teachers now act interested and care if we do well."
Even if that means a little discipline, like Nancy Nguyen learned her father dealt with at a boarding school in Saigon, Vietnam.
"The teachers wanted their students to get good grades," she said.
Her sister, Janell Nguyen, said their mother, who went to a girls-only school in a small village, faced another obstacle -- the Vietnam War.
"It was really unsafe, so they didn't go to school," Janell said.
In many cases, students -- and their grandparents -- thought education today was tougher in terms of the amount and complexity of information students were learning.
"My grandma used to be a teacher," Whitney Box said. "She said that we're learning things she didn't learn until after she was a teacher."
Kelsie Riser said her grandmother echoed those sentiments.
"She tried to help her kids, and they didn't do half the stuff they do now," she said.
Riser was also made privy to one difference between schools of the past and today that several other students found shocking and made Riser shudder as she said it.
"We have bathrooms, not outhouses," she said.
In some ways, their grandparents' schools had less structured environments, like impromptu sock hops during hour-or-longer lunches, or -- as one of Clarke's grandparents remembered -- students wearing hats and bringing firearms for an after-school hunt, something that wouldn't fly in a 21st-century middle school.
Krista Beedle learned her father's school only took attendance first and seventh hours, making skipping second through sixth hours a cinch.
"Probably, I would (too)," Beedle said.
Fellow eighth-grader Krystal Klebenstein said one of her grandparents said discipline problems were few and far between, because back then students went to school to learn.
But not all of them were angels, as one student pointed out with a story of students at separate boys and girls schools sneaking off together during lunch.
When students did misbehave, the punishments were, though perhaps not cruel, quite unusual compared with what today's students face.
"Mine got in trouble, so they put his desk in the closet," said Lauren Colman.
Several others heard of punishment by a ruler slap to the hand. Although most agreed corporal punishment was well left behind, Clarke said it would have served as a deterrent.
"I wouldn't have done it again," he said.
Such differences in crime and punishment spoke to differences in the environment, Ballock said. For many of the students' grandparents, coming to school was a respite from farm work or other responsibilities at home, and fewer perceived dangers lurked outside of school.
"I kind of think they had more freedom, because they didn't get in as much trouble," Ballock said.