One-room schoolhouse alum share their stories, experiences
‘It was almost like today, but you had just one room’
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.”
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.