It’s been more than seven decades since Forrest Dryden attended grade school at Pleasant Valley country school. And though the memories are understandably fuzzy for Dryden, who’s now in his 80s, he still recalls his experiences as a student in a rural Kansas school.
Back then, classes weren’t segregated by grade, but taught by a single teacher in the one-room schoolhouse. The school was just one of the many one-room schoolhouses built every three miles in each Franklin County township. Most were supported through public funding and often stood on an acre of land either donated by a local farmer or purchased at a discounted price.
Until consolidation forced these schools to close during the 1950s and 1960s, the structure was a familiar sight, dotting the Kansas prairie and countrysides. The Pleasant Valley schoolhouse served rural Wellsville from the time it was built in 1889 until 1954 when consolidation forced the school to close.
School attendance ranged from 30-45 students, who varied in age from 5 to 25 years old. Dryden, who now lives in Lawrence, remembers walking 1 1⁄4 miles each way to school and the big hill he had to climb to get there. He, his brothers and the kids who lived nearby, walked to school everyday unless they were lucky enough to get a ride.
Dryden continued attending classes there until he finished the sixth grade. At that point, he transferred to Wellsville schools. While in high school, Dryden was well-known as a top athlete. The varsity letterman collected numerous accolades, including three letters each in basketball and football and four in track. Up until a few years ago, his relay record remained unbeaten at the KU Relays.
Today, the Pleasant Valley School Dist. No. 2 school building still stands and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in February 2004. Wellsville resident Jan Bloss also attended a country school, but her experience was much shorter.
At the time, Bloss lived in the LeLoup community, an area served by the Brown School. But because the rural school didn’t have a kindergarten class, her parents worked out a deal with the teacher. When school started in fall 1957, Bloss attended for about a month. The experience prepared the youngster for what she could expect the following fall as a first-grader at Wellsville Elementary School.
“I started school really young,” she said. “I remember playing with the big kids on the playground, and I remember the teacher having one of the bigger kids read to me. I enjoyed it.”
The school, she said, was primitive, and didn’t have indoor plumbing at the time. Instead, students used the school’s two outhouses.
“I was already familiar with the schoolhouse because we had community potlucks there,” she said. “The schoolhouse always seemed to be the hub of the community.”
Bloss doesn’t remember why she didn’t attend Brown School as a first-grader, but said the school might have closed. Because of her location, she had the opportunity to attend Wellsville, Ottawa or Baldwin - all of which were located nearby. Her parents opted for Wellsville, while the neighbor kids attended school in Ottawa.
During the 1940s, the Kansas Legislature formed a council to examine the number of one-room schools still existing in Kansas. From 1940-1941, Franklin County had 84 schools. Of those, 75 were one-teacher, country schools. Between 1941-1943, eight country schools closed in Franklin County. One of the primary reasons why rural schools closed, the council found, was because parents wanted better educational opportunities for their children at a lower cost for taxpayers.
Other reasons were population declines in rural areas, emergencies, such as schoolhouses lost to fire, and the inability to find a teacher for the school year. Personal or community “jealousies or prejudices also were significant underlying factors,” according to the report.
Wellsville Elementary teacher Sharon Van Horn moved to Ottawa when she was in third grade and attended Eugene Field Elementary School. While she didn’t attend a country school, Van Horn often gets a glimpse of those traditional teaching methods that continue to live on. “I do see that many of the strengths of learning in a one-room schoolhouse are also used in many of our classrooms (today),” she said. “Cooperative learning in groups, peer support of students, hands-on learning, teaching kids at their (individual) levels and devising individual lessons are used today. (There are) many similarities.”