Four grades in one room, and one teacher

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - Owen Can­field

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.

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