The first lower Morapos School.

Duane Osborn/courtesy

The first lower Morapos School.

Remembering the country school

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Duane Osborn/courtesy

The teacher's house at the Morapos School.

School will be starting for Craig youths Monday, and all of the back-to-school talk triggers memories of school years when my sisters, brother and I were growing up on the ranch.

We attended the Morapos School, a one-room country school on the family's ranch property. It was less than a quarter of a mile from the house, so we walked to school. My sisters and I finished eight grades at the school.

Our younger brother attended one year, and then went to the Hamilton School.

In those days, each community had its own school and its own school board. A county superintendent, whose office was in the Craig Courthouse, was "over" all of the county's country schools. Among other duties, she passed out materials, sent out yearend achievement tests, and, on occasion, visited the schools.

I still remember the book of blank warrants the school board treasurer used to pay the teacher.

Years ago, before I started school, there were two Morapos schools - an upper school and lower school, named for their locations.

Only the lower school was open when I was in the first grade. It was a log building that was heated by a wood- and coal-burning stove. Some of the parents took turns hauling coal for the school, but the teacher was responsible for building the fire each day.

Sometime after that, the school was moved into a new cinder block and stucco building. The teacher lived in a two-room frame house located next to the school.

The teacher's house (known as the teacherage) had two rooms. One room had a natural gas space heater, a bed, vanity dresser and a closet with a curtain. The kitchen had a cooking stove, a Hoosier cabinet for dishes and canned goods, a table and chairs, and a washstand.

The schoolhouse had back and front doors. Students went in through an entry room in the back. That's where we put our lunch boxes and hung our coats. Water, brought in by parents, was kept there, too.

In the first years of the school, students filled their tin cups with a dipper. This eventually was upgraded to a crock water cooler with a cup dispenser and paper cone cups.

The school room had windows along the south side. A natural gas stove and bookshelves were along the north side.

The desks had tops that lifted up so we could store supplies in them. There was a place on top to hold a bottle of India ink. In the front of the room was the teacher's desk, and behind that a long slate blackboard with chalk and erasers in its ledge. (The erasers were cleaned by beating them together - outdoors, of course.)

Opposite the teacher's desk and along the windows, was a recitation bench large enough for the teacher and two students to sit.

So that first day of school, we students arrived with Big Chief tablets, brand new crayons, pencils and erasers. Gene Autry and Roy Rogers lunchboxes were popular in those days, too.

The teacher rang a red handheld bell to call us to order.

School started with the Pledge of Allegiance and perhaps a song. Then, the teacher gave students individual assignments. Some subjects were studied before lunch and others in the afternoon. There were workbook pages to be completed in math, grammar, geography, history, and reading, depending on the grade level. Students took turns sitting on the recitation bench to read to the teacher and work on other lessons.

We practiced penmanship by making, among other movements, up and down and circular strokes. This was done on specially lined paper with pens dipped in India ink. Penmanship books served as guides.

During recess, we played on the swings and slide or played baseball, but perhaps more often we played Cowboys and Indians in the chokecherry, serviceberry and oak bushes. In the winter, there were snow forts and snowball fights. I still can see the wet gloves lined up on the stove on those cold days.

While I was attending high school in Craig, the Morapos School closed down. The books, desks, recitation bench, playground equipment, and other school equipment and supplies are gone. But the school still stands. So does the teacher's house.

And the memories remain.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2009. All rights reserved.

Diane Prather can be reached by writing to her at P.O. Box 415, Craig, CO 81626.

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