A Day at the Silver Cliff School
A day at this school was much like most of the other schools in Custer County. It started in the early morning with the teacher arriving at the schoolhouse about an hour before the students. The teacher would light the fire from the wood or coal that had been carried in the night before. Water did not have to be carried from the teacher’s house like at most of the one-room schools because Silver Cliff had a water system from its earliest days.
Most of the teachers in the 1800s were unmarried women. Should they marry during the school year they were required to quit. It was not until World War II, when many women teacher went to work in factories to help the war effort and also the pay was better, that married women were hired as teachers. If the teacher were a man he most often would be called professor.
An American flag rose, flapping in the breeze, as the rope was pulled by the teacher or a student who arrived early to school. Classes officially began at 8:00 a.m., announced by the ringing of the school bell. The children entered the classroom and hung up their wraps on hooks along the wall of the entryway. Once the children were seated, the teacher took attendance. If it was a clear day the class went outside to salute the flag and sing the National Anthem.
Next the teacher explained the assignments for each group. All was quiet in the schoolroom except for the squeaking of pencils and the sound of erasers on papers. As the day progressed each class was called upon for recitation. A group of students recited a poem they had learned or written themselves. Here is a poem written by one of the students.
A Little Sunbeam
I am a little sunbeam.
I am very gay.
I dance among the meadows
When the men are making hay.
I give light to the people.
I give light to the plants.
I do no harm to anyone
And that is why I dance.
—Mary Mulvay, 8th grade
A time was set aside for the students to answer questions prepared by the teacher. Sometimes drills on arithmetic tables or rules of grammar were heard.
The chief method of learning in all subjects was oral recitation. It was based on the theory that “What we say, we fix by the very act of saying it, in the mind.” A period of time was set aside for the teacher to work exclusively with the children who were reciting their lessons. The other children busied themselves at their desks studying or doing assigned “seat work.” The younger children sat beside the older ones for help in reading the geography, science, or history textbooks.
Morning recess was normally about fifteen minutes, following by more class work, and an hour lunch. The children looked forward to recess and the noon hour since that was the only time they were permitted to speak to each other. The noon time was also a time to carry in wood to feed the stove for the remainder of the day. The afternoon was spent much like the morning with classes and a short recess. On days of inclement weather the teacher led the children in calisthenics to “help the flow of blood to the brain,” as was stated by some teachers.
For the all-important writing lesson, desktops were cleared. Copy books or lined paper were passed out, and each child put together their own “wooden holder ink pen” and placed a cloth ink wiper nearby. Ink bottles were put on the desks filled with a mixed-power ink. Students listened attentively to the teacher as she told them to dip sparingly into the ink, draining off any excess. The younger children did a series of hooks and circles, or learned to write their names with a lead pencil before actually using ink.
In the late afternoon of each day, the teacher read aloud to the students. This was a special time, enjoyed by both the teacher and the children. If there was a piano or organ in the school and the teacher could play the instrument, the teacher would use the time after reading for music. If there was no instrument the children would sing a Capella.
At the end of the day, the student would leave for home but the teacher stayed to clean the schoolhouse. She swept the floor, tidied the room, and readied the stove for the next day’s fire. Sometimes student helpers would take on the task of cleaning the erasers and blackboards or carrying wood for the stove. Although most children enjoyed helping, not all children were willing workers. Some chores were assigned as a form of punishment. In the later days of the school a janitor was hired.
Several times during the year the Silver Cliff School students united with other county schools for such activities as Spelling Bees, Christmas Pageants or other special holiday plays. These programs were well attended by parents and were something the whole family enjoyed.
Even though today there are no classes in the Silver Cliff Schoolhouse building the activities held there in past years will long be remembered.