Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Big City Schools and One-Roomed Schools: Education in Sherburne County

The lyrics from a Perry Como Christmas song keep running through my head, “Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.”  My thoughts turn to schools in Sherburne County; the large consolidated schools such as Handke School in Elk River; and the many small, one-roomed school houses in the county.  Although the larger communities of Elk River and Big Lake offered large well-established schools.  The majority of students in early Sherburne County attended one-roomed school houses.  Until the 1960s, one-roomed schools served an important role in education in Sherburne County.  In fact, from 1854 to 1969, more than 50 one-roomed schools taught children in Sherburne County.  Many of these schools educated 25 students each year, grades one through eight.  How they operated and functioned is a story better told in volumes.  Some of the memories, however, are worth recording here. 
Haven Township school circa 1905

Many of the teachers in the schools remember a typical schedule as described by Rozella Tinquist Gunderson in Lighting the fire: The Rural School Experience:  School begins at 9 am.  9 am to 9:15 opening exercises, flag salute and quiet time.  9:15 to 10:30 classes and recess, more classes until noon.  12 noon to 12:30 lunch and play time.  12:30 to 2:30 classes, study time, and recess.  2:30 to4 pm classes until school dismissed.  4:00 pm to 5:30 pm planning for next day, and 7 pm to 11 pm correcting necessary papers. 

Not surprisingly, the students remember a less arduous school day.  Dennis Weis remembered, “from the day school started, I knew what was the best part of school—recess.  We played lots of games—tag, red rover, hide and seek, marbles, anti over, dodge ball, keep away and tin can alley.  We ran races, played on the swings, built snow forts, and drowned striped gophers.” 

District 32 school circa 1929
Other students remember the one-roomed schools as institutions to be avoided.  In an oral history collected in 2016, Betty Belanger remembered her insistence in attending the “city school” in Elk River. “Started school at age six. Fought with my parents to not make me go to the little country school. I wanted to go to the big city school and ride the bus. So, I did go to school in town, in Elk River,” she remembered. “The new Handke building was already built by the time I started school. So, the senior high was over there in the new brick building and we were still in the wood frame building. We rode the school bus for a long time because there were only a few busses, so we had a good one hour or better ride.” 

Whether from the memories of teachers or from students, education in the one-roomed schools and the “big city schools” of Sherburne County made a lasting impression on the entire community of the county. The 115-year history of one-roomed schools in Sherburne County provides thought provoking history. 

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