Back to (a One-Room) School

Author Photo
By Donna Rae Barrow

The hazy days of summer are swiftly coming to a close. The summer crops are fading, there’s a cool whisper in the evening breeze, and a lovely golden leaf floated to the grass outside my door yesterday. All this can mean only one thing: It’s back to school time!

I loved school as a child! Books that would crack when opened on that first day were filled with so many adventures and wondrous things. Pencils … oh! the pencils! … were finely sharpened and arranged “just so” in my pencil case. And NOTHING in the world was more intoxicating than the fragrance of a fresh ditto sheet! Today’s students board modern buses with backpacks carrying digital tablets and scientific calculators. They disembark at their destinations of large, bright buildings and spend their days traveling from room to room for classes in Environmental Science, Calculus, Japanese, and English Literature. Lunch might consist of sushi or a burger with fries. For some, with schedules too filled with advanced learning, lunch may not exist.

It was much different in my father’s time. He grew up in beautiful and rural Floyd County, Virginia. He spent his summers working around the old home place, planting or harvesting, feeding animals or making hay. He was, however, a great student of all things and loved learning to the end of his days. While he was quite the prankster, deep down I know he liked going to school.

A School Photo of Robert Peters

My father would walk to school along a dirt road, carrying a metal lunch pail that held a nice hunk of cornbread. He’d arrive at a one-room school house, where children of all grade levels would hang their coats and remove their galoshes in the cloak room. All would recite the Pledge of Allegiance and bow for prayer before each day began. The teacher would lead the children in lessons in reading, writing (in cursive!) and arithmetic, and students would complete their lessons on slates or on paper using a quill dipped in the ink well imbedded in each desk. The occasional long braid found its way into my father’s ink well … but that’s another story. Drinks of cool water were dipped from a pail, and the same water was dipped to a bowl for hand-washing. Cold days in the mountains were warmed by the school’s stove.

Inside the Restored Double Springs School

Hand-Sanitizing Station in a One-Room School

My father’s cousin became a teacher and taught at one of these one-room schoolhouses. Later in life, Dorothy Vest was instrumental in restoring a one-room beauty called Double Springs School in Floyd County. It stands today, open to visitors, filled with mementos of those long ago days and desks from each era of learning at the school. When I visit and sit at one of those desks, it’s not an iPad or even a fresh ditto sheet I think of; it’s Daddy’s mischievous blue eyes gazing out the window during lessons, dreaming big dreams like the ones he read about in the school’s books, that bring a warm smile.

Double Springs School in Floyd County, Virginia

As the young ones in our community head back to school this fall, share with those around you what school was like in your childhood. Perhaps you could make them an old-fashioned afternoon snack in a pail or in a basket and spend some time hearing about their day of lessons. Encourage each one as they embark on this great adventure!

Published on Sep 10, 2013