Children living outside the villages of Vicksburg and Schoolcraft attended one-room schools such as Strong School and Clark School, pictured here (Strong School in the first two pictures and Clark School in the last two). Clark School, District 1, was located on West U Avenue and 8th Street and is no longer standing. Strong School stood on Silver Street and was acquired by the Vicksburg Historical Society in 1996. It has been restored and is now in the Vicksburg Historical Village. The clothing and haircuts were typical of the time.
By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe
Nostalgia and I are long-time friends. Growing up the fourth generation on a family farm, I eagerly welcomed this constant companion. Reminders of the previous generations and their hard work were visible daily: the hay barn’s hand-hewn beams, the old horse collar in the shop, the field stone foundations. My grandparents planted two pear trees to the west of the farmhouse in 1908. From my bedroom window, I could watch those knobby branches drop their fall fruit, twiggy fingers wiggling in the breeze.
The childhood faces of my father, uncle, and their neighbors smile from their annual school picture on the steps of the Harper School – a charming old black-and-white photo in my album. Dad’s one-room-schoolhouse days were part of our growing-up-folklore: the mile walk to school, the tag and softball games at recess; the neighborhood’s contribution to salary and firewood. It all sounded magical to me.
When I started kindergarten, I rode to Fulton Elementary School with my grandmother – our 4th grade teacher – in her white Thunderbird. I couldn’t see over the dashboard, so I watched the trees click by or traced the powerlines as we drove the six miles to school. I loved being with her – my striking grandmother in her little tweed suits with the lapel pins, her suntan hose, and her spectator pumps. After parking, she opened the car’s heavy door for me, saying, “Have a good day, dolly.” I assumed everyone’s school experience was as wonderful as mine; the only way it could possibly be better would be going to “country school.”
Last spring, a frank discussion with my mother-in-law about her one-room-schoolhouse experience revealed a different narrative. She had attended several one-room-schools in rural Illinois before going to high school in a larger town. My mother-in-law is smart, loves numbers, and remembers everything. I’m sure she was a sharp and thorough student, quickly finishing anything her teacher assigned. But when she finished one year and entered a different “country school,” she learned that her teacher had not introduced her to important math concepts, leaving her terribly unprepared for the next year’s expectations. “I was angry. I had lots of work to do to catch up.” Catch up she certainly did, but it was disappointing and stressful for her.
So those really weren’t the “good old days” for many students. Isolation and lack of support in outlying areas created gaps in student learning I hadn’t considered. Today, teachers plan and team at grade level, following curriculum that guarantees students’ exposure to the most important standards. Also, in the 1940s and ‘50s, many students didn’t go beyond the 8th grade. Many students today are eligible for and receive much needed services and supports, also helping more students complete their schooling.
I will always enjoy looking at those charming school photos or seeing the old structures on Sunday drives, but I am also reminded of the historical and continued need for equity and opportunity for all students.
It’s a Fine Life
By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe
After nearly six months, our school children are returning to classrooms which are operating differently. Our communities continue to adjust our regular activities, and many of the events we look forward to have been cancelled or postponed. This current state is challenging our patience. Despite these disappointments, there are still many interesting things happening in South County.
Exciting Discovery at the Mill
Environmental researchers discovered a colony of snuffbox mussels in a section of the Portage Creek which runs along the Mill property. Native to eastern North America, this freshwater mussel is listed as endangered in both the United States and Canada. To read more about this exciting find, go to https://vicksburgmill.com/.
Pumpkin Decorating Contest
One of the joys of fall are the beautiful, bright-colored pumpkins that adorn our porches and yards. The Vicksburg Historical Society, together with the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, are hosting the ever-popular pumpkin-decorating contest. This sounds like fun! Check the organizations’ websites or Facebook pages for upcoming details. Entry forms will be available at http://vicksburghistory.org/pumpkins.
7th Annual Vicksburg Lions Club Golf Outing
The Vicksburg Lions Club supports our community with time and money. The summer festival, their big fundraiser was cancelled this year. Golfers can help fund their area projects by supporting the annual Golf Outing. This important club event will be held Saturday, September 19 at States Golf Club. Shotgun start at 11. For more information, contact Ryan Freeland (269) 290-4381 or Dawn Freeland (269) 910-2758.
Preschool-age farm kids, my great-nephew Grady and his sister Addy, were surprised and thrilled by the tractors parading down their street several weeks ago. The Kalamazoo Valley Antique Tractor & Machinery Club hosted this Tractor Ride in place of their cancelled annual show. Organized by Vicksburg resident Dale Sult, tractors arrived from as far away as Lansing, Charlotte, Three Oaks and Plymouth, Ind. The caravan of 53 tractors, which covered more than a half mile, slowly passed 12 of the quilt barns and historic buildings of the Vicksburg Quilt Trail and then drove up Main St., waving to kids (and the kids-at-heart) along the route who stopped to stare!
Fall Bike Celebration
This sounds like a perfect autumn activity! The second annual Fall Bike Celebration Weekend will highlight attractions in and around the village of Vicksburg and southwest Michigan from September 18-20. This weekend has been meticulously planned with countless activities for all ages. Registration and a complete list of details are available at www.fallbikecelebration.org.
Quilt Trail Presentation
A Vicksburg Quilt Trail presentation will be held Saturday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Vicksburg District Library. Learn how quilt trails began, how Vicksburg started a trail and how to paint a quilt. Attendees will also learn about each of the 24 quilts on barns in the surrounding countryside and on historic buildings in town.