In the first half of the 1900s, most Amish kids went to public school. These days, almost all of them are in Amish parochial schools. So, what happened? In a word, “consolidation.”
Before 1950, schools tended to be small, rural, and controlled by the local parents. Some Amish fathers even served on public school boards. But as small schools were consolidated into large districts in the 1950s, the Amish became more and more hesitant about sending their children off on buses to faraway, centralized schools.
So, they began buying up the no-longer-needed country one-room schoolhouses, and they opened their own schools. This kept their children near home and their parents in charge of their education. Students normally walk to school, or take a pony cart, or most often, they ride a bicycle. Each church district or two has their own school, with a three-member board to hire the teachers, maintain the property, approve the curriculum, and take care of the finances.
Since the Amish child’s education ends with eighth grade, being sent on a bus to a distant consolidated high school is not an issue. (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)
These days, the supply of abandoned one-room schoolhouses is long gone, so the Amish build their own buildings, such as the one pictured here. Most have one room, divided in half with a curtain, and staffed by two teachers and possibly a teacher’s assistant. A few have a third classroom, possibly for “special education” students. A few have four teachers. There are generally about 40 students; any more than that, and a school district is split in two.
Most have playground equipment, a ball diamond, or a basketball hoop, and the children can be seen playing softball at noon recess. There also might be bike racks, a hitching post, and a small outbuilding for horses or ponies. I’ve read many things about Amish schools having “outhouses,” but that’s not true, at least not around here! There are indoor restrooms, one for boys and one for girls. Many have a downstairs area for storage and/or social events.
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