Our one room schoolhouse program began when a group of Canterbury Historical Society members wanted to find a way to share our classic red brick school house, Center School, with more Canterbury people. Joan Leggett was named to lead a committee made up of Mary Ellen Fifield, Carolyn Udaloy, Gordon Jackson and Bob Scarponi. They began planning a program that would engage Canterbury’s children directly with our town’s history and heritage. Many more people soon became involved. They interviewed and recorded memories of many residents who had attended our one room schools. They reviewed town reports and other records. They consulted the elementary school faculty and found in Principal Mary Morrison great enthusiasm for a cooperative project with the school and the historical society. (For more information see Bob Scarponi’s recounting of these initial stages of the project in the 2007 Canterbury Town Report.)
In 2006 serious planning began for a program to allow every Canterbury child to attend a day in a one room school. It would be as authentic a reenactment as possible. Children would walk down the hill from the elementary school to attend. They would have learned from townspeople and teachers what to expect during the day, about what life and school were like for children in those days, about what would, and would not, be appropriate to wear and bring for lunch.
1947 was selected as a year when many people in town remembered attending the one room schools. Members of the committee volunteered to be a teacher for a day. The school agreed to divide the 120 children into groups of mixed grades 1-5. Each group would spend a full day at Center School, scheduled on five different days. The only member of the committee who had experience teaching in a one room school, Mary Ellen Fifield, agreed to be the first teacher. She worked hard to produce a lesson plan for the day which included opening exercises, penmanship, spelling, dictionary work, reading, and, of course, recess! The water jug would be filled, town hall bathrooms opened (no more outhouse!), and the heat turned on when needed.
In November, 2007, Mary Ellen taught the first class. An “itinerant” music teacher (a member of the committee) came in the middle of the day and taught a class of music theory and history, singing and movement. Others took turns, each teaching for a day, ending that first pilot year in April. Much delight was taken in the period clothing worn by many children and teachers and in opening up lunches packed in paper bags, lunch pails and baskets, containing no plastic bags, no chips or juice boxes – just real food and maybe a drink in a Mason jar. These details brought many enthusiastic parents into the process.
The program has been spotlighted by WMUR-TV Chronicle, “Lakes Region Spirit” magazine, and has made the front page of the Concord Monitor a couple of times. In 2012 Joan Leggett was awarded a Certificate of Accomplishment and $300 prize by the Country Schools Association of America at their summer conference in Iowa. Joan has worked hard for the program, and she generously presented her award money to the One Room School program ($200), and to the elementary school ($100), for enrichment teacher Karen Gingrich to use for the many projects she coordinates as pre and post one room school enrichment studies for the school children. The Country Schools association will include our Center School in the group tour at their next summer conference in June, 2017.
Each year the program follows the same basic outline and focuses on a different period in Canterbury’s history. Lesson plans now exist for 1947 – as described, 1943 – the fire in Canterbury Center, 1941 – World War II, 1938 – Depression years, floods and hurricanes, 1919 – World War I, 1880 – New Hampshire rivers and mills, 1863 – Civil War times, 1956 – last year of the one room schools, opening of the new elementary school, built cooperatively by the Canterbury community, 1938 – Depression years, the railroad in Canterbury. . Each year the teachers carefully plan subjects to be taught which support requests of the elementary school faculty. A guest speaker, often bringing other visitors, has become part of each school day. These grandparents, great grandparents and neighbors add rich and personal history of Canterbury to the curriculum.
A “kickoff Day” is now organized each year by enrichment teacher, Karen Gingrich, and is held at the elementary school. It provides activities and programs to help children prepare for the time period chosen for that year. Karen has been involved with the program since the first year and often serves as one of the teachers. Many others have volunteered to share their knowledge and experience for the kickoff day and as teachers.
This program is unique. It is run entirely by volunteers in collaboration between the elementary school and the historical society. It provides a full school day for groups of mixed grade levels as one room schools did. High interest and involvement by many Canterbury residents and the elementary school teachers continue to enrich the program and keep it relevant to Canterbury’s past and present.
As of 2015 the program has grown and is now able to also provide “A Day in a One Room School” for each of the four second grades from Belmont Elementary School. The second grade days are set in the 1880’s. One year a group of 20 homeschoolers ranging from grades 1 – 9 attended, and a special day is provided for Canterbury’s kindergarten children at the end of each school year.
Visitors are encouraged and always welcome, by prior arrangement, as are new volunteers. Contact a member of the Center School Committee or the Historical Society if you are interested in participating.