Four grades in one room, and one teacher
Joan Barra Finklestein read a recent newspaper article about one-room schoolhouses, as I did. “It didn’t mention our school, Burrville,” she said with a frown in her voice. Joan and I were classmates at Burrville School, both of us in first grade when Pearl Harbor was bombed. That was Dec. 7, 1941, a Sunday.
I remember vividly the excitement in the coatroom the following day. Everyone talked at once and it took our teacher, Miss Peggy Cleary, a few minutes to get the students to calm down and take their seats. It was difficult to concentrate on our schoolwork that day, I promise you.
Miss Cleary taught four grades. When we passed into fifth grade, we assembled each morning at Burrville Store down the hill on the Winsted Road to catch the bus for Torrington’s North School. After North, we moved on to high school at Wetmore.
It was in the late 1940s that the one-room schoolhouse in Burrville became a two-room schoolhouse, with the addition of a bulky sec-
ond room attached to the front of the original cozy little building.
The addition apparently worked well, but it was unattractive and ruined the charming character of the original structure. Burrville was growing and the school had to be expanded to handle the influx of new families
My little sister Marjorie (Johnson), some eight years younger than me, attended the two-roomer, which had a teacher in each room. They were Mrs. Olive Mignerey and Mrs. Helen Farley. One taught first and second
grades, the other third and fourth.
“First and second grades were taught in the front, the addition,” Marjorie remembered. “Third and fourth, in the original structure. The bathrooms were in between with a short hallway. When we got through fourth grade, we were assigned to Torringford School,. which had recently opened, for the next four grades.”
When we moved to Burrville, I had completed first grade at North School and so I started second grade at Burrville School. Brother Matt, a year younger than
me, was in first grade and sister Sandra, a year older, was in third.
I couldn’t handle the work, and so would ask permission to go out to use the outhouse. (Yes, we had boys and girls outhouses a good distance behind the back of the school.) Once excused, I would run the half mile to our home. It didn’t take long for mymother and Miss Cleary to agree that I should return to first grade. Thus, Matt and I went through 12 grades together.
Joan Finklestein remembered the big wood furnace near the front of the room in the old schoolhouse. “The big boys used to have to cut the wood and carry it in,” she said. I remember too, having done myshare of cutting and carrying. But Joan remembered fun things too.
She said, “We had endof-the- school-year picnics at the home of Sandra Murray. They were fun. Also, do you remember the May Day things? The parents were invited and we would all dance around the May Pole.”
We had a good conversation, remembering the charm of the one-room school, the adventures we had, the friends we made, and beautiful Miss Cleary, a woman of blessed memory to me.
She was engaged to a soldier, Will Dranginis, during the war. “Remember?” asked Joan. “She would have us write letters to himin class.”
I remembered that, and many other wonderful things, all of it dear to my heart, although it was many decades ago and there aren’t many of us still able “to sit up and take nourishment,” as Mother used to say.
But memories of a unique, early childhood schoolhouse experience will always remain fresh.