One-room school­house alum share their sto­ries, ex­pe­ri­ences

‘It was al­most like to­day, but you had just one room’

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

The McConchie one­room school house served the black com­mu­nity and black fam­i­lies for decades in the early 1900s. The school was closed in 1952, but hun­dreds of stu­dents got their early ed­u­ca­tion there and in oth­ers like it around the county.

Three one-room school alums re­cently shared sto­ries and mem­o­ries about their time there, say­ing it was in­com­pa­ra­ble to the ed­u­ca­tional sit­u­a­tion to­day — both good and bad.

El­iz­a­beth Ri­ley and Pauline Collins, two alums of the McConchie School, and James Ri­ley, an alum from the Hill Top one­room school that was in Port To­bacco but burned down, all had dis­tinct mem­o­ries of their ex­peri- ences.

“It was al­most like to­day, but you had just one room and you had one teacher and she had dif­fer­ent grades,” Collins said. “Ev- ery­thing was on pa­per and a pen­cil and ev­ery- thing was just fine. The way I look at it, it wasn’t too much dif­fer­ent.”

But while things were the same in some re­spects, there were also huge dif­fer­ences for stu­dents back then. El­iza- beth Ri­ley said she had to walk three miles to and from school ev­ery sin­gle day.

Back then, James said, there were no play­ground fa­cil­i­ties — just “play ar- eas.” There were ac­tivi- ties, like dodgeball, base­ball, tag and other games that chil­dren could play, he said.

Some­times, El­iz­a­beth said, she and other stu­dents would help out in the gar­den to pass the time dur­ing re­cess. There were many things to do and many of those ac­tiv- ities helped mold young stu­dents into adults, she said.

And while teach­ers were very pa­tient, there was only one room with dozens of chil­dren in it look­ing for an ed­u­ca­tion with very lit­tle re­sourc- es, Ri­ley said. Edna Sim- mons, the teacher at the McConchie School, was great for stu­dents, Ri­ley said, be­cause of her pa- tience, but it was still a strug­gle for ev­ery­one at times.

“She stuck with you when you had a prob­lem,” Ri­ley said.

Both James and Collins said they had the same ex­pe­ri­ence walk­ing to and from school. Most of the stu­dents at Hill Top, James said, were rel­a­tives of his, but it still did not al­ways make it easy to han­dle.

“The teacher had to take their time with you,” he said.

But the best part about his ex­pe­ri­ence, James said, was how strict his teacher was and how she taught the class about val­ues. “Ms. Davis,” he said, “she taught us re­spect. She taught us how to re­spect one an­other.”

Both Collins and El­iz­a­beth Ri­ley said they re­call Sim­mons “be­ing moth­erly” and those were lessons they both took from her and have used through­out their lives. Pa­tience and re­spon­si­bil­ity were also dif­fer­ent things they learned, Collins said.

James said the teach­ers had to of­ten be providers in one-room school houses. Teach­ers only made around $35 per month, he said, but were of­ten ex­pected to pro­vide school sup­plies and some­times even lunch for chil­dren who for­got theirs.

Grow­ing up African-Amer­i­can in South­ern Mary­land of­ten meant there would be a strug­gle, Collins said, but chil­dren did not un­der­stand that and their teach­ers did a good job of shield­ing them from it. They took care of their stu­dents and made sure they had the best en­vi­ron­ment to learn in, she noted.

If there was one thing chil­dren to­day could learn from back then, it is that they have to work hard for things and earn re­spect be­fore they can de­mand it from any­one, Collins said.

El­iz­a­beth Ri­ley said she had a great ex­pe­ri­ence at the McConchie School. The ex­pe­ri­ence is one she has val­ued in her life, but some­thing she also would not want to see any­one else have to go through.

Christ­mas was the time to get things that were needed in­stead of what was wanted, she said. Things were not al­ways done for fun, but rather for the well­be­ing of a fam­ily.

“I en­joyed it though. I wouldn’t want to go back there, though,” she said. “But it was a good ex­pe­ri­ence.”

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

Charles County cit­i­zens Pauline Collins, left, El­iz­a­beth Ri­ley and James Ri­ley sit in the McConchie one-room school house last week to share their ex­pe­ri­ences in such a small learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

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