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Return to the one-room school

  • Mrs. Marian Burkhardt began her teaching career at St. Paul's School, Lehigh Township.
    Mrs. Marian Burkhardt began her teaching career at St. Paul's School, Lehigh Township.
Published November 12. 2010 05:02PM

QUOTE: "The children were so nice." Teacher Marian Burkhardt

Cindy Deppe of Lehigh Township was a kindergarten student of Mrs. Marian Burkhardt when she taught at Lehigh Elementary School.

She knew that Burkhardt, born March 7, 1914, had, over the years, taught many students in the township beginning at St. Paul's One-room School.

Deppe contacted her about doing a story and she agreed. In late September her son Barry brought her from West Chester where she now lives to St. Paul's School to provide an oral history for the Lehigh Township Historical Society.

"She must have taught a lot of children in her life. Everyone you talk to - she taught their kids," said Beverly Putts, as they waited for her arrival.

When Burkhardt walked into the school the first thing she noticed was that "we didn't have a stove like that." She recalled a large stove with a guard around it to prevent children from getting burned. The coal was kept in the cellar and the larger boys brought it up through a trapdoor that had to be closed off when the Society strengthened the beams.

She said she took care of the fire - students were not allowed to do it for fear of their getting burned. At night she had to dampen it so the coal would hold its fire overnight, and in the morning it had to be stirred up to burn brightly.

"But the steps from the trapdoor are still there," said Society member William Marsh.

There are old Victrola records in the basement, and Burkhardt said she played them for the children.

Her first teaching job after graduating from Kutztown Normal School was at St. Paul's. She taught voice music only because when she was at St. Paul's School there was no piano.

The day began with the Pledge of Allegiance, Bible readings, a prayer and singing of "America."

On holidays a flag was hung outside the school, but there was one in the front of the room also.

Deppe had brought a book her mother made with all the material she brought home from kindergarten. Burkhardt remembered the things in the book and was enthused about the ones she had liked best such as the Valentines. The two still exchange letters.

"This is another desk," she said as she got up on the teacher's platform.

Putts said, "But it is an old desk and we put it where it should be."

"I had a bookcase on that side of the room (opposite where the society put one). Mine had doors on it. We had a basin where students could wash their hands," she said.

Water had to be carried from Gables. A water cooler was in the back corner.

There were two outhouses behind the school.

Burkhardt played games with the students during recess - games such as Farmer in the Dell, jump rope and London Bridge.

The school day was from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with morning and afternoon recesses and a half-hour lunch period. If there was a lot of work to do, she cut the recesses short.

There was a clock but it was in the front of the room, not where it is now. Putts said, "We went by what people told us."

Burkhardt said she kept attendance and filled in her own report cards. The district office was in Berlinsville where she turned in the paperwork.

. "I was the office," she said with a laugh. "In those days you were everything including the nurse and doctor."

Putts asked if anyone was ever hurt and Burkhardt said, "Of course there were. They raced around outside."

Discipline was never a problem. They knew when I spoke I meant it, she said.

She lived with her parents Lillian and Ralph Minnich in Berlinsville and walked the mile to school each day.

It was only once in a while that school would be cancelled because of the weather. Some days students and their teacher would look toward the cemetery and see men shoveling snow for the township to pay off their taxes.

"You went early to put material on the blackboard so you could give time to the children when they arrived," Burkhardt said.

St. Paul's was closed in 1951 and students were moved to the two-room schools until Lehigh Elementary was built several years later.

At that time a teacher could not be married. She married anyway, and the couple moved to Treichlers. The ban on marriage was lifted and she taught at Treichlers Two-room School until Lehigh Elementary was built.

She taught kindergarten at the new school and enjoyed going into a warm building instead of being responsible for the heat.

There was no television and she said when that came children were influenced by it.

"I had a lot of families," Burkhardt reminisced. She thought there was an advantage to having the eight grades in one room. Younger children heard the older ones recite and parents were surprised by some of the things their children learned that way.

Eighth graders had to take a test to go on to high school.

She asked about the school bell and Marsh said the Society is putting it outside with the pole against the steps.

Two years ago she went to a class reunion at Kutztown and was disappointed that only two of her classmates attended.

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