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Surrattsville High School, As I Remember It

The following is from an undated, unsigned document from the Surratts House archives (written by a Surratts grad from either the late nineteen teens or early 1920s who returned to Surratts to teach after college).

"Surrattsville High School, As I Remember It.   I was the youngest of four children.  When I was old enough to enter first grade, my sister and one of my brothers were high school students and my second brother was in the fourth or fifth grade.  So we all went to school together at the new Surrattsville High School (1910 version).  We lived on a farm in the Camp Springs area, which was a good five miles from the school.  My father provided a horse that was steady and sturdy for us to drive to school.  Four of us could squeeze into the "Cozy Cab" or closed buggy, and one of the boys did the driving and tended the horse giving it water and feed, and unhitching and hitching it at our arrival and departure.  We endured cold and inclement weather and bad roads in those days.  My mother heated bricks and wrapped them in burlap to keep our feet warm, and lap robes were tucked around our legs.  Five miles on a cold day was a long journey for a first grader, so my record of attendance that first year was not too good; I was absent almost as much as I was present.

My first teacher was Miss Celeste Young, a most attractive beginning teacher, who insisted that I write with my right hand and reinforced her insistence with a few taps of the ruler, although I was quite obviously left-handed.  At the first opportunity she moved into the higher grades and Mrs. Elizabeth Van Ness Duvall took over the primary grades.  She was trained in the use of Ward's Rational System of teaching reading (a phonetic approach) which worked well with all of us.  She used flashcards and we all hissed and puttered in concert each day.  We sat in double desks and had a lot of seatwork to keep us busy.  If at the end of hte day, we could truthfully say we had been quiet workers, we received a merit card.  When we had earned five of these cards we could trade the smaller ones in on a larger one.  If by chance we could ever earn four of the larger ones, these could be exchanged for a certificate which became ours to keep.  Being a talkative six year old, I didn't have many merits to display when I completed first grade.

Mrs. Duvall let us dramatize stories and I vividly recall being chosen to play "Goldilocks" because of my long blonde hair, for I was a cottonhead then.  As I think back over my educational experiences, I owe a lot to Mrs. Duvall.  She gave me a good foundation in the 3-Rs, which stood by me as I continued my education.  She was a motherly person, middle-aged, and a most capable and conscientious teacher.  We became fast friends, and when I graduated from Towson State Normal School in 1923, one of my most treasured momentos was a note from her.

Mr. Eugene S. Burroughs was the principal at Surrattsville.  To me as a primary pupil, he seemed to be a giant of a man.  He taught in the assembly room separated from our classroom by a cloakroom.  I can remember his deep, booming voice, and on occasion when he would sneeze, the window would rattle!  Later he became Superintendent of Schools for the County and Mr. F. Bernard Gwynn became the new principal."

I can recall few of Supt. Frederick Sasscer's visits to our classroom.  In those days the superintendent was required to visit each school and assess the situation personally.  He always consulted with our teacher, asked a few general questions of the class, and heard some of us read.  We tried to do our best for him.  When Mr. Burroughs became superintendent, Miss Blanche Ogle visited our school in his stead, as she did other elementary schools in the area.

Miss N. Eva Turner came to Surrattsville as a beginning teacher when I was ready for the intermediate grades.  She was young, energetic, with a keen sense of humor, and a good disciplinarian.  She put us through our penmanship drill, saw that we knew our multiplication tables, and introduced us to history and geography.  We were seated separately now and had to pass a few notes in order to communicate.  In general, we were kept too busy to get into any mischief.

When I moved into the upper grades I had my first male teacher, Mr. J. A. Carrico.  We were in the large assembly room now and were "called up" to sit on a bench and recite our lessons.  If a person ahead of us on the bench missed his turn by giving the wrong answer, or by not having an answer, the next one in line had to go above him.  This motivated some of us to try to get to "the head of the class".  When the one at the head missed an answer he was sent to "the foot" to work his way up again.  Once in a while I had the exciting experience of being head of the class, for a brief period.  We held different positions for different classes and had to remember our place.

It was at this point that we included some civics and health in our weekly schedule.  Our physical education took the form of "recess," when we "choose up sides" and play games.  Dodge ball was one of our favorites.  Any music was handled as part of our preparation for a program we were to present.  I can't recall an art lesson as such, but we were introduced to the works of the great artists through the pictures in "The Instructor" magazine.

I remained in the same building throughout my seven years of elementary school and four years of high school.  The more advanced pupils were always upstairs on the second floor.  They moved about from room to room as the bell rang periodically.  At first this was a gong in the downstairs hall.  The principal would pull the cord and sound the gong, or send someone to do it.  This was also our fire alarm.

When I advanced up to high school Miss Eva Turner was my homeroom teacher.  She had moved up from the elementary division and taken a schedule in English and Math.  Mrs. Louise Blandford Burroughs taught Home Economics; Mrs. Catherine Gardiner was my French teacher and my science teacher.  Our music teacher served more than one school and came to our building once or twice a week.  Miss Turner also coached the girls' teams in volley ball and end ball.  At that time the Public Athletic League held meets in the counties each spring and then a statewide meet for the local winners (usually at Johns Hopkins Field in Baltimore).  I earned my bronze, silver, and gold medals for individual events and several bronze and silver bars for team events.  I wear the silver and gold medallions on my charm bracelets today.  Representing your school in the meet was enough motivation to keep us practicing all year through.

By the time I was ready to graduate from Surrattsville, automobiles had replaced most of the horse-drawn vehicles, but I was still driving the five miles from my home using "Old Flora" as the source of power.  By community effort a frame gymnasium, a separate structure, had been completed on the school grounds and was used for exhibits, programs, and graduation exercises, as well as basketball games and dances.  Mrs. Anna Flowman McKay was our principal when I graduated in 1921.  There were eight in our graduating class, four boys and four girls.  Only two of the eight had started in first grade together.  The others had come from the wider community and other states.

After two years of training at Towson I came back to Surrattsville, and taught in the very room where I had started school as a first grader.  Mr. Milton Somers was my principal.  The same double desks were there, the same chalkboards and "Uncle Jimmy" Hawkins was there as our custodian as he had been for years before.  A single electric light hung from the cord in the center of the ceiling and a time clock controlled the bells, but the old gong still hung in the hall.  While I was there as a teacher, our first P.T.A. was organized.  I remained for four years and then enrolled in American University to complete work for a degree.

After I left, the old Surrattsville High School I had known disappeared, to be replaced by the larger and more facilities now embracing an elementary, a junior high and a senior high in separate locations.  The old familiar school busses have replaced the pony carts and buggies.  But, as in the days of yore, it's the good teachers who provide good learning experiences for the children, who make the real difference in the quality of our education.





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