It’s good to see the school bus once again passing our house each morning. Thoughts of riding the bus do not actually bring back the fondest of school day memories for me. When you grow up in a rural setting, you are certain to spend a majority of your young life on a school bus, but seeing that yellow blur each morning does stir up the nervous energy of first days – anticipating new classrooms, new teachers, new experiences.
Starting grad school at this stage in my life still brought on that same nervous energy. I could barely eat lunch the day I headed out for my first evening class on campus. Would I fit in, would I seem old, what if the professor was younger than me?? Thankfully, he had at least ten years on me, but going back to school at age 44 is a surreal experience, to say the least. I have t-shirts older than some of my classmates.
The advantage of being an older student is that you already come equipped with some knowledge of life. Let’s face it, you can’t know much about life until you’ve lived it for a while. Over time you develop a sense of who you are, but I think a lot of that gets determined early on, indirectly picking up our values from home and school.
At the time I entered grade school in 1970, the Hermann school district had three outlying elementary schools for 1st through 6th grades. These schools were in different rural areas of the school district. I guess the intention was to keep the younger kids closer to home, eliminating the long bus rides to town. I attended the Swiss School, named for a tiny community south of Hermann. We had four classrooms and three teachers for six grades – each teacher taught two grades in one room, and the fourth room was used for the traveling music and art teachers who came once a week.
Was it the finest primary education I could have received? Probably not. We learned the basics – there were no advanced classes for some of us over-achievers. I read early, and I read quickly. When Mrs. Scheer noticed, in first grade, that I kept skipping ahead in our reading books, she let me sit in the back of class to read what I wanted while she taught the rest. No remedial courses either. The multiplication tables came slowly to me, but that fell to my mom who got me on track with nightly sessions of flash cards. If any of us had any particular musical talent, it probably went unnoticed. A music teacher came through once a week, but generally we just sang songs, although I do remember a very young teacher around 1976 teaching us to do “The Hustle”!
We may not have passed today’s No Child Left Behind program, but we learned a wealth of intangible qualities that have gotten me far in my life. We learned respect early on, and how to work independently – when one grade was being taught, those of us on the other side of the classroom knew to quietly do our own work. We learned how to recognize our strengths, and not worry too much about the weaknesses. I was never very athletic – I wasn’t the kid who was the last to be picked for the games at recess, I was the one left standing. No one gave me a hard time about it – and I didn’t dwell on it. I knew that I wouldn’t be the top choice, and that was okay. We learned to be accepting – bullying or picking on someone was not an option. And we learned to have fun. I know there are schools where personal achievement and competition are stressed above all else. Our teachers gave us the essentials, but they never forgot to let us be kids. We put on silly Christmas plays, we read Charlotte’s Web every day after lunch, we had hot dog roasts and cake walks at the first PTA meeting each fall. In other words, we learned how to appreciate the simple things in life…
The community of Swiss is still on the map – just 13 miles south of Hermann on Hwy 19 – and it’s worth the drive. The Swiss Meats and Sausage Co. is located there. This family-owned business has greatly evolved from the country store where we picked up bread and milk when I was a kid. Housed in a great log structure, Swiss Meats has become famous for its sausages and smoked meats – it’s even been featured on the Food Network. And save some room for an excellent burger across the highway at the Silver Dollar. People come for miles to have a steak on Saturday night, but get there early, or you will have a long wait.