One-Room School in Jefferson County Takes Kids Back in Time

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one-room school in Jefferson County, IL

Sharon Francois, right, a volunteer with the Jefferson County Historical Society, gives her students lessons during their one-room schoolhouse experience. County youngsters learned about daily life in the 1800s during a two-day session at the society’s historical village, near Mount Vernon. (Photos by Marian Kiefer)

Writing with ink and quills, ciphering lessons and greeting the teacher with a curtsy or bow.

Those standard procedures for students who attended the one-room East Hickory Hill School seemed unusual for Jefferson County youngsters in a summer program at the Jefferson County Historical Society’s village.

At the historical village, a one-room school, several log buildings and many volunteers transported about 15 youth, ranging in age from 7 to 15, back to the time of prairie and early settlers.

One of the modern pupils, 7-year-old Azlyn Kiefer of Belle Rive enjoyed learning math and printing even with a quill and ink. Compared to her modern classroom, students then “didn’t have much paper,” she noted.

Understanding the life of early settlers was one goal Sharon Nichols had for her modern students. A retired elementary teacher, Nichols coordinates the society’s Day in the Life of a Prairie Child events and serves as one of its one-room schoolteachers.

To ensure the lessons are as authentic as possible, Nichols interviewed several residents who had attended one-room schools. “We do a compare and contrast so they (participants) can see the difference” between early and modern classes, Nichols explained.

one-room school in Jefferson County, IL

Seven-year-old Azlyn Kiefer of Belle Rive prepares to start her day at the East Hickory Hill School. Kiefer enjoyed learning how pioneer students studied math and writing.

Jefferson County Farm Bureau member Kyle Kiefer says his daughter, Azlyn, was so excited after her first day she waited up until he came in from the field at 10:30 p.m.

“It’s a really neat experience. This shows them the differences and the similarities of school today and then,” Kiefer says. “It’s a great idea. Most kids don’t know what a one-room school is, let alone experience it.”

In addition to attending school, the young settlers also washed clothes with a wringer, played old-fashioned games, square danced, and learned about medical care and a scarlet fever outbreak from a volunteer country doctor. In an authentic pioneer cemetery, the youth found the graves of several American Revolutionary War veterans and three lieutenant governors.

The historical society offered two, two-day sessions free of charge. Since the program began 10 years ago, Nichols noted several participants have returned for new experiences.

“I want history to be real and for them to have an appreciation for everything we have,” Nichols says.

That lesson was realized by Azlyn who decided that, although the one-room school was fun, she prefers attending school in modern times. “It’s easier,” she says.

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