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Lincoln fourth graders go back to school – way back
October 01, 2015 Frank Marquez   

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Photo by Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen - Lincoln Elementary fourth graders Bryan Larson and Austin Rahmig await the bus for their field trip to the historic Flowerfield School in Banner County.

HARRISBURG – For nearly three decades, fourth graders in local schools have been taking field trips to the Flowerfield School to learn how children were taught in the 1880s.
This year was no exception.

Fourth grade students from the classes of Tracy Steele and Kristi Mueller at Lincoln Elementary in Gering visited the Flowerfield School last week to have their students get first-hand experience of what public education was like more than a century ago.

Girls wore bonnets and long woolen dresses, while boys donned suspenders, jeans and scratchy flannel shirts, with all hints of modern life – computers and cell phones – totally absent from the barren prairie life of a one-room schoolhouse.

The field trips were the idea of Penny Businga, director of SOAR at Educational Service Unit #13 in Scottsbluff, who started the history project in 1987, according to local news reports. The project, in cooperation with the Banner County Historical Society, targeted fourth graders because the field trips fit in with lessons on Nebraska state history.

As part of the curriculum, students learn how the Homestead Act of 1862 brought settlers to the North Platte Valley, how the transcontinental railroad was built, and how locals hoped the Kincaid Act in 1904 would eventually help to develop Nebraska’s grasslands even more.

The students also followed lessons in reading, arithmetic,
orthography and penmanship skills. They used quills and ink, and hand-held chalk boards. They were also required to wash their hands with lye soap after completing chores, in a lesson on hygiene scripted by Dr. Georgia Arbuckle Fix, one of the first graduates of the Omaha Medical School in 1881.

“Flowerfield is one of those opportunities for kids that bring history to life. Students study Nebraska history in fourth grade, and what better way to learn it than to experience it, Steele said.
Absorbing some of the valuable lessons of old, fourth grader Kirin Lawing said, “We learned about the different utensils they used that we don’t have today. We used quills and ink. It was a lesson in handwriting.”

By comparison, students at Lincoln today learn to write cursive in third grade.

“We also learned what food they had,” Lawing said. His classmate Austin Kizzire added, “You could eat beef jerky.”
Another student, Grace Fankhauser said, “When we were at the school, we learned how people got around and how they did stuff. And, when it was really cold out, they couldn’t go out. The used like old fashioned stoves.”

Kylie Backus added that they burned “corn cobs” in the stoves to stay warm.
Also, in order to weather the harsh elements, early Nebraska settlers dressed in more durable and heavy fabrics. Dressing for the part has become a distinct part of the field trip to Flowerfield. Jayla Ruiz said she got her costume from Goodwill in Scottsbluff, while Ashtyn Schwartz said she got her costume from her teacher. “And, I had an apron and a bonnet, and it was blue with just some designs on it,” Schwartz said. “At some points, it was uncomfortable but other than that, it was pretty good.”
Most of the students admitted they couldn’t dress this way every day, and were thankful to wear their Gering T-shirts, shorts and soft sole shoes.

The lack of electricity and indoor plumbing also affected living conditions. Ashby Rohnke said, “We learned that at night you couldn’t go to the bathroom in the outhouse. So, you had to use a chamber pot − but it looked like a bucket − under your bed.”

Mueller asked the class, “Whose job was it to clean it out?”
In unison, the class answered her: “Ours.”
Jenna Davis said, “The girls had to wash all the clothes inside, and the mom used to iron them. And, you had to clean out the chamber pot.”

Among other chores, Alex Gonzalez-Orozco said, “The boys’ job in the morning included feeding their horses and the prairie chickens. Then, we went into this house made out of dirt, and then there was this couch that mom and dad slept on. If there was no more room, then you had to sleep on the floor.”
The students also discovered something about keeping order in the classroom, the old-fashioned way. Avery Bernhardt said, “If you got in trouble, the boys would have to sit on a chair with a dunce cap. The girls had to face a wall with their nose touching it until the teacher said. The worse punishment was,” he said, laughing, “The boys had to sit with the girls, and the girls would have to sit with the boys.”
Today, by comparison, Mueller said there’s more of a process to discipline.

“I have a place they can go,” she said. “We call it the safe seat. They need to be removed from the situation, and need some time to think about what they’re doing. And, then there’s a progression, and if they’re still not OK in the classroom, other steps will be taken, but we definitely don’t discipline with noses against the chalkboard.”

While at Flowerfield the students sat in the pioneer church where classes were regularly taught. It was built in the 1880s by homesteaders in the Kiowa Precinct of Scotts Bluff County with lumber from the nearby Wildcat Hills.

Also, an adjacent 1888 log schoolhouse, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Logan Otto and moved to the museum grounds in 1974, is used for lessons on penmanship with little more than lantern light.

The project’s first classes visited Flowerfield on Sept. 9, 1987. There are reportedly an average of 800 students a year. It is estimated that more than 25,000 students from throughout the Panhandle have been to Flowerfield.

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