Sidney students visit Flowerfield

August 29, 2018

HARRISBURG — Bonnets and gingham. Quills and slates.

As the sun broke through the swaying trees onto the front of a white school house, students dressed in 1880s attire carried their wicker baskets into the classroom.

Tessa Janssen’s fourth-graders attended Flowerfield School on Tuesday, Aug. 28, and learned as students did in 1888.

The North Ward Elementary School entered the one room school house in two single file lines, one for boys and one for girls. Students used slates, chalk and cloths during their studies of arithmetic and orthography.

Lois Herbel was the teacher for the day. As the boys sat on the right and girls on the left, they started their day as any other, with the Pledge of Allegiance. However, the students learned how the original pledge did not include the words “under God” until 1954.

During the history lesson, they discussed the Oregon Trail and how the creation of the TransContinental RailRoad gave way to safer and faster travel. Because of this, the Oregon Trail was no longer used. The railroad played a crucial element in the settlement of the Midwest. Homesteaders settled across the Midwest, with most of the homesteaders being men. The only way a woman could homestead was if she was at least 21 years old and was the head of the household, meaning unmarried. A lot of teachers were homesteaders and used their earnings to hire hands to manage the land.

After the history lesson, some of the students walked to the Flowerfield School for a lesson in penmanship. As the quills dipped into black ink, students turned the pages of their small notebooks and practiced the cursive form of letters in the alphabet. They also wrote their names. The students said that activity was their favorite all day.

Orthography was another topic area for the students. The study of spelling introduced students to common words used back them, some of which hold different meanings today.

“What do you think cobbler means?” asked Mrs. Herbel.

Peach cobbler was the class’ consensus, but it was the name for a shoemaker.

Brand. A brand of clothing perhaps? A brand is how ranchers mark their animals, using a hot piece of iron so they know which animal belongs to whom.

While the gingham style of fabric is more uniform lines, it has become less common compared to plaid fabric.

In the late 1800s, children were expected to contribute to work around the farm with their academics less of a priority. Resources were also scarce, meaning towns could only afford to build one school, which also served as the community center and church. A teacher was responsible for instructing eight grades in one room, with the smarter students aided with instruction. Unlike today, grade level was determined by reading ability. In a small group, students took turns reading aloud a short story from the revised edition of John Wiley & Sons’ book “McGuffey’s Third Eclectic Reader.” There were first through eighth eclectic readers the teacher used to determine a student’s grade, since older children may have started school later and be at a lower reading level than a younger child.

“My hope is that they walk away with understanding of how much kids did and how there has been a shift in focus from the farm to school,” said Herbel.

After visiting the watering hole and pumping water into a pitcher, students enjoyed a short lunch break before touring the buildings. They were able to apply their orthography lesson to physical items to help with their learning. Herbel showed the students through a house and explained how people used dry cow pies and corn cobs as fuel to burn. Corn cobs were also used as toilet paper.

The students let out a gasp and their jaws dropped as Herbel explained how whiskey was used as medicine to help with a sore tooth and wounds.

With the school day winding down, students and Janssen returned to the classroom for a class photo. From their photography lesson, they learned that smiling back them was not proper as dental hygiene was not important and smiling made a person look goofy. So, they took a traditional, straight-faced photo before letting their personalities shine.

Fourth-graders across Nebraska will visit Flowerfield School from early August to late October to experience a school day in 1888. Forty-three classes have signed up to visit Flowerfield this year, with around 24 students visiting the school daily. June Lacey and Herbel alternate days over those three months.


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