Kathleen Garcia, a gifted resource and special education teacher at Red Hill Elementary School, was looking for a subject that her students could make into a timeline project. She hit on the idea of the story of the school itself and her students dove in. Little did they imagine the fascination that would come in uncovering their past.
“It’s about teaching culture through place,” said Garcia. “Red Hill, what a gem we have here! It’s a rural school with a rural population. I think we are unique in the county.” Garcia has also taught at Brownsville Elementary.
“We have kids with names that go back to the start of the last century. What’s amazing is the whole way the school started. The community here started the school and paid for it and built it in 1905. The county built another larger building in 1907. It later burned down. We went out and found bricks from the 1922 replacement school in the current location of the school.”
Red Hill Principal Art Stow said he’s now a “history fanatic for this school,” as he watched the students investigate and discover its previous life and continuities that abide.
“I believe this would be an excellent study for any one on the development of culture. Place influences who we are. The place here has not changed,” said Garcia.
The timeline the class is working on will be displayed on beams spanning the school’s main hallway, so walkers in the hall will pass through history. The plan is to display a pair of shoes from each era. They’re working on that. There’s also a slide show in production.
“The kids have really embraced it,” said Stow. “We have old, old files of students who are long gone. Some contain school records and other documents. There are photos of students. There are some families in the records that have kids in the school now. A lot of our parents went to Western Albemarle, before Monticello was built, and there are lots of Batesville connections.” There are 174 students at Red Hill now.
The students spent four months reading through the old files. “We looked on the Internet, too,” said Alyssa Brookman, “but there’s not much on it compared with what’s in the school office.”
“This is the first time they’ve used primary sources for information,” explained Garcia. The students also searched through newspaper archives at Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.
“The office files were the most valuable,” agreed Collin Barnett.
“This was the white school,” said Garcia. “We don’t know where the black one was, but we know there was one because we have stories about them. We know they had a bus. Everybody in the community knew everyone.”
“We are so proud here,” said Ryan Farley. He pointed out that the front beam from the brick school’s porch was saved to be the school’s entry sign. It rests on its Doric columns still. The campus also includes a round 1970s building called the “pod,” still in use, that was once an experiment in “the open classroom.”
The paved courtyard on the east side of the school is the basement grade of the old school, demolished in 1981—it turns out one reason was that parents were worried that there were no fire escapes from the second floor—and the ediface of its front door now serves as a graduation arch that Red Hall students march through to culminate their days at Red Hill.
“The bricks are from the original school,” said Eva Riddervold, hefting one up to prove its tangibleness.
They also found an old brass hand bell, about five inches in diameter, with a turned wood handle and a clear, imperative sound.
They found a 1908 photograph of the school population standing on a long front porch. They found a framed diploma awarded to Rhoda Thalia Mawyer in 1916.
“We found a file about a guy who was heading to military school,” said Kayden Hall.
“The wars really had an effect,” said Garcia. “During World War Two, one [soldier] dad’s address was recorded as “unknown.” The kids wondered what that was like. To have no information. . . .”
“We had the first wrestling match in the state,” said Farley. There was a clipping about it. It was against Alberene High School.
They found a case where a student had been held back in fourth grade three times. “And finally his parents took him out and made him work,” said Farley.
“The school used to grade students on posture, clean teeth and clean clothes,” added Garcia. “And schools went to your home and graded it. They knew what church you went to. One student had to do self-improvement on her appearance and it was put in her file. They put comments in the file that we’d consider much too personal.”
“Their teachers were not as nice as our teachers,” observed Barnett. “They were young and if they got married they had to leave teaching. Poor people were treated unfairly.
“They had to walk and they got in trouble if they were late.” He estimated that three miles was a likely distance to reach the school.
Each student is learning in depth about one decade and will write the timeline copy for it.
“They have to choose meaningful events for the kids in the community,” said Garcia. “They couldn’t choose the obvious necessarily.”
“Here’s something that stuck with me,” said Stow. “When the second school burned down, the community took off from their work and came and fixed a place where the school could go on.”