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Miss Ruby’s One-Room School Closing

June 2, 2000

PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) _ After today, young girls and boys will no longer come to Miss Ruby’s School for classes.

The one-room schoolhouse, where generations of black children have been educated, will shut its doors permanently as a result of budget and maintenance problems. The 35 students in preschool through fourth grade will be sent to other schools.

``Everything must come to an end,″ said Bertha Smith, a graduate who became one of two volunteer teachers at the school. ``It’s done a lot for me and for the people in the community. Miss Ruby especially _ she taught me and I consider her to be my mentor.″

For 53 years, until her death in 1992, Ruby Middleton Forsythe was headmistress of Holy Cross-Faith Memorial School, as it is formally called. Founded in 1903 by the Episcopal Church, the school moved to its current gray-blue clapboard building in 1932. At the turn of the century, the church ran 19 day schools for black South Carolinians.

``I really don’t think the community realizes what it is losing,″ said Carolyn Wallace, who graduated from the school in 1951 and became headmistress after Miss Ruby’s death.

In the 1980s, Newsweek magazine named Miss Ruby an American hero. She had taught generations of students in as many as 11 grades at the school, which is sheltered under oaks off a busy highway about 25 miles southwest of Myrtle Beach.

``Small girls, small boys, come into Miss Ruby’s school,″ the children would sing. ``Small girls, small boys, come to learn the golden rule.″

Miss Ruby’s philosophy was not to charge tuition. In recent years, students have paid a modest fee, perhaps a few hundred dollars per year, based on their parents’ ability to pay. That meant the school had to raise about $30,000 a year from donations, bake sales and similar fund-raisers. Wallace is the only paid employee.

``My reaction is bittersweet, recognizing time is progress and that we have had here for 97 years a successful institution,″ said Norman Deas, a 1950 graduate who volunteered to teach after retiring from a federal job.

``I’m getting more than I’m giving,″ he said. ``These young people are really amazing. It’s hard to cut loose from them once you’re attached to them.″

Nine-year-old Lavern Dozier, sad at being one of the last graduates, said he enjoyed helping the younger students at their desks across the room.

``I helped them write their ABCs correctly and I helped them with their numbers,″ he said.

In 1997 there were about 1,600 one-room schools nationwide. That probably has not changed much as public schools close and some religious and private schools open, said Mark Dewlap, an education professor at Winthrop University and an expert on one-room schoolhouses.

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